Our teachers, educational assistants and in-school workers have been abandoned again by their School Board, the PHO, the provincial government, and their own union. The Boards are allowing unvaccinated teachers to work in school when even the teacher’s union says this is wrong. The Board has not mitigated by improving ventilation, enabling social distancing, or providing protective equipment such as N95 masks. The PHO has lied about the amount of spread in schools and has now refused to ensure all teachers have access to a booster before entering an unsafe workplace. The PHO also exempted school districts from the Public Order yesterday, thereby denying school employees the same safety plans granted to every other employee in the province. The Government has not provided the resources required for districts to implement adequate mitigation and has done nothing to improve online learning which is obviously going to be needed. Finally, their own union has let the teachers down by not standing up to the government when they know every one of their members that goes to a school on Monday will be in a dangerous and unsafe workplace. My teacher neighbour is terrified because he must come home to an immunocompromised partner and fears he will bring this awful disease home.
There is a strategy for teachers and other in school employees to use to avoid having to enter the school building on Monday and the PHO has provided the basis for taking this action. The PHO said on Tuesday that “everyone in a school should be vaccinated”. She also implored employers whose employees can work from home ‘to allow those employees to do so”. It is known that all teachers are not vaccinated and only forty percent of children aged 5-11 are vaccinated. Clearly, by the PHO’s own standards, schools are not safe. It is also clear that teachers can do their work from home by switching to online learning. This is further supported by the fact that every school, at the request of the Superintendent, spent part of this week planning for “functional” closure and a move to online learning.
With this in mind every teacher should refuse to enter their school building on Monday by declaring their classroom and school building an ‘unsafe workplace”. It would be important to follow the guidelines laid out by Worksafe BC. These can be found on Twitter and are clearly laid out by RedShirtTeacher@RedShirtTeacher. This individual has done a masterful job of laying out step by step the action you need to take. It is important to emphasize that you are happy to continue to undertake your teaching responsibilities from home as the PHO recommends. No employee can be penalized for refusing to work in an unsafe workplace and your union can not be accused of participating in an illegal strike. This action would be much more powerful if every teacher in the school took this action Monday morning. Imagine the message this would send to parents about the danger in which your Board and the Ministry is placing every student.
There comes a time when every teacher needs to take a stance for themselves and for their profession. My generation took a stance in the 70’s for every teacher’s future when we took a stance on pensions. This is your time! You should not be put in an impossible position with the fastest spreading deadly virus being present in every school. You should not be the only profession deliberately exempted from the PHO’s latest public order just because your School Board and the Government know they have not done everything they can to make schools safe. You are being put in a place where it is expected you will get sick, and it could be with long term covid which could be detrimental to your health for a lifetime. You need to take a stance individually and preferably collectively! You are not striking, you are following a defined legal process, you are prepared to carry out your duties and you are protecting your students, your colleagues, and your community!
The time for action is now!
Doug Player, January 8, 2022.