I believe every community wants to see their schools open. I also believe everyone wants the schools to open safely so that the opening does not result in community spread that endangers every member of the community. However, I believe the current rush to open the schools for teachers on September 8 and for students on September 10th is a mistake that will put every teacher and student in unnecessary danger. There are two primary reasons for waiting until October 1st to open the schools. In addition, other issues concerning safety need to be resolved and questions need to be answered during this time.
The first reason is to restrict the potential effects of the Labour Day long weekend. It is clear that 14 days after the Canada Day weekend we had the ‘Kelowna” spread that went well beyond the Okanagan. We are currently suffering a serious spike 14 days after the BC Day weekend, with last Friday being our second highest count in a single day. The current plan calls for us to put 540,000 students in schools just when we can predict a spike in cases will result from the Labour Day weekend. Waiting until October 1st will enable public heath to contact trace and prevent potential carriers from entering the system.
The second primary reason is that we need to support our teachers and staff. They are being asked to adapt to an entirely new situation of delivering curriculum, relating to students, and creating a learning environment. Having been on holidays, they have not even been consulted on the opening plan which is entirely top down. Teachers within each District have a right to have their input on the opening. They are the front-line workers and they have a lot of expertise to offer that would likely improve the safety and effectiveness for all. For this preparation they are being given only TWO days!! This is a ridiculous expectation.
Consider the senior teacher. In the two District plans that have been made public, these teachers are being asked to teach classes both face to face and remotely. To be effective these teachers should receive training on how to teach remotely. They need time to develop online repositories of videos and materials that both the teacher and the student can use in the presentation and practice of a concept. Students deserve a well-prepared teacher and teachers deserve the opportunity to become knowledgeable and skilled at the new methodology. The time until October 1st would provide for these needs.
Now, consider if the time were used to improve upon the top down plan. Teachers could be teamed and a more appropriate division of labour could be created. The Master math teacher, whose class every student wants to be in, might become the expert in online delivery and the other senior math teachers could be the ones who meet face to face to support the students. School librarians could team up and use the time to create the needed repository of resource materials to support the online learning. Imagine a model such as this that would allow every senior math student to benefit from the expertise of the best math teacher in the school while receiving face to face support from the other math specialists. At the same time, a plethora of resources would have been identified and made available to both staff and students. Teachers need time to lend their expertise to the school plan and to design the best learning approach during this pandemic. Every high school department requires the same opportunity. Teacher teams could do this in three weeks but not in two days!
The other issues that need time to be resolved relate to safety and call for a major revision to the plan and some answers to some critical questions.
We are learning more about this virus every day. Today one of the largest studies of children has concluded they are significant spreaders of the virus. https://www.courthousenews.com/study-reveals-children-are-silent-spreaders-of-covid-virus/ The study recommends: “control measures such as social distancing, universal mask use, effective hand-washing, and a combination of remote and in-person learning.”
We cannot risk the lives or the potential long-term heath consequences to our staff, students and community because we did not implement measures we know are effective in controlling the virus.
Districts need to sit down with all staff, not just administrators, and make serious revisions to this flawed back to school plan. One of those revisions needs to ensure physical distancing in all situations, particularly for elementary schools! This will take time and require some additional resources from the Ministry. But surely, our most precious resource---our children---warrants this spending!
The good news is that this can be done. I have suggested one plan in another of my blog posts so I know it can be done. I am sure teachers and administrators working TOGETHER in a district with actual numbers could do even better. The three weeks to October 1st could be very productive leading to teacher, staff, and community buy-in and a truly safe environment for children.
In this time the community could also be given answers to these three questions which I hear over and over again:
What testing protocols are in place for teachers, staff and students? We are hiring 500 more contract tracers but should we not invest in some rapid testing machines and test school personnel before we start so no one brings the virus in at the beginning? And should there be ongoing surveillance testing?
What are the self isolation rules if a teacher or student contracts the virus? Who is required to isolate? The class? the cohort? All the families?
The two plans presented so far do not meet the Ministry stated standard of full-time in-class attendance. (I do not think any plan can). If this is acceptable, what are the limits to the creativity that, left alone, Districts staffs could implement to better provide safe effective leaning situations?
Dr Gufstason said: “the vast majority of transmissions is occurring in close prolonged contact, especially indoor settings”. This is the definition of schools! The current plan is not acceptable to teachers, has parents and students justifiably worried. It is a plan that does not follow the government’s own protocols and puts all participants in danger of long-term consequences. I
believe it is time to stop, take a deep breath and re-think. Add some resources, use broader expertise, and do this opening smarter for our children. Moving the start date to October 1st gives all participants time to accomplish this!