Updated: Sep 8, 2020
Keith Baldrey stated 90% of the teachers want to return to work. I disagree with Keith. I believe 100% of our teachers want to return to work but they want to know that we have done everything we can to protect them and their students. We have not done that. Instead, every level in the system has abandoned our teachers. Here is how:
The Minister set impossible parameters when he insisted that schools must have all students in full time face to face attendance. This limited the creative approaches that could have been developed to ensure the two metre social distancing recommended. It also denied the realities of the preparation that our senior students should have for their future schooling. Every major university in BC has gone to full remote learning.
Secondly, the Minister passed the buck to the school boards which will only exacerbate the inequities that already exist in the system. By distributing the federal funds on a per student basis, the small rural, often more impoverished districts will not receive the necessary dollars to provide what the larger urban districts are able to do.
Thirdly, the Minister used his press conferences to propagandize rather than answer the questions directly which only led to more confusion. In his last public Q & A he was seen by many to be supercilious which only led to an increased lack of support from teachers who felt insulted.
The Public Health Officer
Early in the pandemic Dr. Henry was appropriately seen as an incredibly hard working and caring individual who applied all the right precautions to level the curve. Unfortunately, she began to lose that credibility with teachers when she began to act in ways that were political rather than health directed. The classroom ad gave a total misrepresentation of classrooms, showed unintended signs of racism, and created an enormous backlash. When asked about the ad, she tried to justify rather than simply apologize for the concern it caused.
She was also responsible for adding cohorts to the re-opening plan at the last minute causing the BCTF to refuse to sign off on the plan. This move was purely for contact tracing and certainly destroyed any sense of keeping one’s bubble small. It also reduced the opportunity for more creative planning of timetabling at secondary schools. The cohort application still remains a mystery to many.
The biggest blow to teachers came when, two weeks before school opening, the PHO bent the rules and not the curve! Suddenly, the two metre distancing rule became one metre but only for schools and teachers because the workplace is a ‘controlled” environment. This shows an incredible naivete about how schools operate and how children in school function. This overnight change is applied when our curve is peaking at its highest daily rate of infection. No other workplace has been allowed to operate with these guidelines and teachers feel vulnerable.
Finally, both the Ministry and the PHO trivialized teachers’ feelings as expected anxiety. As a group, teachers are more dedicated to their work than any group I know. But with an average age of 48 years and often immunocompromised, they are genuinely fearful of what is happening on September 10th. They may live with an ageing parent or with a diabetic child and suddenly their bubble is at least 120, there is no social distancing and there is no mandatory mask policy. They have a right to be fearful and for the Minister and PHO to trivialize this fear is insulting! Not only that, they both have made a CYA statement: “there will be outbreaks and we expect some to get the virus”. Is it any wonder that teachers feel abandoned?
The School Trustees
The name Trustee is supposed to mean something. These individuals are entrusted with the care of the local school system and all of its employees, yet they signed on to a letter in July supporting the Ministry’s plan. They did not even consult with their own constituents. The teachers have asked for more time to prepare and that is something the Boards control. Yet they have abdicated their authority to submit a local calendar to the Ministry. A local calendar could provide three weeks more preparation time by adjusting professional days and adding a minimal number of instructional minutes to each day. Not one provincial Board has challenged the Ministry’s plan on behalf of their teachers who refused to sign on to the plan. There is clearly a disconnect!
The BC Federation of Labour and CUPE
These are the representing bodies of the unionized workers in the system other than the teachers. They demand health protocols for all their other workplaces but when it comes to the bending of rules in the schools their silence is deafening! Enough said.
This is the body that is required by law to stand up for their teacher members. But what happened? The BCTF wrote their demands to the Premier requesting a remote learning option for all, reducing class density, a better mask policy, and adequate preparation time. The Minister passed the first to Boards, did nothing about the second, put a stop order on the third and gave an inadequate two days on the fourth. And the BCTF capitulated as the government knew they would. The union by the nature of their statements and requests, admits they are knowingly asking their teachers to enter unsafe working conditions. This is the unkindest cut of all!
These are our educational leaders who are now imposing a top down model in each district without even having their teachers involved in designing the learning environment which those teachers have to make work. No leadership philosophy or theory would ever advocate such an approach. Moreover, the lack of creativity that has resulted is staggering to contemplate. 70% have adopted a quarter system that puts a generation of students reared on technologically formed short term attention spans into horrendously long class periods often with teachers who have never taught in such a format.
Not only that, but many Superintendents are blackmailing students to show up in person by telling them they may lose their spot in school if they choose to learn remotely. As an example, Courtney states that if you choose transition learning to start you may only return to your home school “if there is room”. Last time I checked blackmail was considered a crime.
The Principals and vice-principals
At least this organization wrote the Minister and demanded more preparation time. The Ministry acceded to the request by delaying student attendance by a whole two days. The administrators know this is not enough but have simply acquiesced to the Minister. Some teachers will not know their assignments until the walk into school on the 8th of September. They must learn new procedures and protocols, a new teaching block system, perhaps new course content and maybe a new technology platform and they must prepare inspiring lessons, all in two days. Without the preparation time, the school start will not be what parents would expect for their children This puts teachers on the front line in an untenable position.
Kudos to the one principal who wanted to mandate masks in his secondary school. Yet when he was basically given a cease and desist order from the Ministry did anyone stand up for this gentleman? Where were his colleagues, his Superintendent, his Board? No doubt, he felt just as abandoned as the teachers do!
Is there any question as to why our teachers feel completely alone, fearful and totally abandoned by the system? They have been!
We all want schools open! Teachers all want to go to work! But they do not want to jeopardize the heath of themselves, their students, or their community. They all see cases on an upward trend. They all know in two weeks there will be a spike from the Labour Day weekend. And they all know that this is a flawed plan putting themselves as the guinea pigs in a poorly planned experiment.
Will many die? Not likely. Will some become ill and suffer life altering long term consequences? Probably. But the Ministry and PHO will simply say that we said there was risk and this was to be expected—their CYA statement.
This is not right when we could do this so much better as I have stated in previous blogs. We have no right to abandon our teachers the way we have done! They shape our future through their heroic work with our children and grandchildren.
To all of our teachers, I wish you well in whatever path you choose on in September, be it declaring an unsafe workplace (which is your right), deciding to carry on or deciding to call it quits. You should never have been put in this position by any of the above!
YOU SHOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN ABANDONED!
Good luck and best wishes.