This weekend we learned that the variant has arrived in our schools. In fact, it has been here for three weeks and is rampant in Surrey schools. We know this variant is more contagious and deadly than the virus we have been “living with”. It seems obvious that the presence of this virus was known but not reported upon in the PHO briefing on Friday. It also seems convenient that there was to be no briefing on Monday but as I write the Minister has been shamed into calling a briefing albeit without DBH. It is crystal clear that the presence of the variant in so many schools is a game changer and requires direct and immediate action.
In Quebec, the appearance of two cases in a school resulted in the immediate closure of that school for an indefinite period. What will happen in BC? Will we finally make use of the rapid testing kits languishing in a warehouse? Will we lockdown and finally take decisive action to move to a Covid zero approach that has been successful in other countries? Or will we continue to devalue our teachers leaving them in harm's way while we continue the false propaganda that “schools are safe”!
Look at the actions of the Abbotsford Board the past week. Having been told by health authorities to keep windows open so that the ventilation in the rooms is improved, teachers arrived to find that the windows had been screwed shut. No notice, no consultation, and no request to the teachers; just a Gestapo action to make an already unsafe workplace even worse! In my fifty years in education, I cannot recall a more demeaning action towards teachers. When did disrespecting those who inspire our children every day become acceptable?
We have put our teachers and other education workers at risk by denying them the safe workplace we require in every other working environment in our province. We have threatened our teachers with disciplinary action should they speak out about the Board or PHO’s handling of the pandemic, even though they could provide valuable information to their community on situations in their own school or classroom. When did it become acceptable leadership practice to create an atmosphere of fear in the school environment? In any other situation this would be condemned as bullying. Our teachers deserve better and they deserve respect.
One would think that the BCTF would be at the forefront demanding the respect their teachers so rightly deserve. In the throes of this attack on the teachers by the Government and the PHO, the BCTF seems to be missing in action! In my day when the Government disrespected our teacher ranks by refusing to provide reasonable pensions to our retired colleagues, the BCTF led us on an illegal strike. It was short lived as the Government knew they had lost their moral authority through their attacks on the teacher workforce. We have a Premier that falsely claims children do not transmit the virus, we have a PHO that falsely claims that schools are not vectors of transmission, while also refusing to order a mask mandate or use rapid testing, and we have a Minister of Education who refuses to provide a safe workplace for teachers. And we clearly have Boards who through their actions on both a provincial and local level show no respect for their teachers. What will it take for the BCTF to initiate action to garner respect for their own members?
Within this vacuum of leadership, we have accepted a pandemic plan that is failing! We currently have the highest ‘r’ rate in all of Canada. With the lowest testing rate in the country our cases are on the rise. We have the weakest school mask policy in the country, and we have left one million rapid tests in the warehouse. We refuse to test people who do not have symptoms even though they may have been in close contact with a positive case. Finally, the PHO refuses to provide data in a complete and timely manner even frustrating our National PHO.
Today, three times, the Education Minister was specifically asked if School Districts could go above and beyond with their health and safety protocols and she refused to give a yes or no. We know the answer is NO because we all recall when the Port Moody Principal tried to put in a mandatory mask policy and was forced to backtrack.
And where is our PHO when there is so much concern regarding the variant? Is she preparing for her MacLean’s interview to be aired in three days? And why would she choose to do such an interview at this time? Is it because her book is being released in a little over one week? It is now clear why we have heard the motto “be kind, be calm, be safe” after every briefing. This is the title of her about to be published book and she has been able to use her pulpit to create awareness for sales. This is a crass use of her position to profit from the miseries of those who have suffered in this pandemic reminding me of a recently defeated leader to our south. As we experience an uptick in our cases, a spread of the variant, and an increasingly anxious parent body, will our PHO be focused on making schools safe or selling books?
We all deserve better. We need to be clear that we all want our schools open, but we want them to be safe for both the students and the employees. Everything, including the mask policy, ventilation, and social distancing can be improved in our schools. With the variant’s appearance it is essential that we take steps to do so. We need to show our teachers that we respect them, and we will go to the ends of the earth to keep them safe in the valuable work that they do. Local leaders need to step up, have the courage to challenge the current pandemic status in BC, and see the opportunities presented by the pandemic to create a stellar school system for our province that is better and safer for both students and teachers and that better serves the needs of the local community.
More on those changes in the next blog.
Doug Player, February 22 2021.