VANCOUVER — The B.C. Teachers’ Federation wants the province to reduce class sizes and make the use of masks mandatory wherever physical distancing isn’t possible as part of its back-to-school plan.
In a statement today, federation president Teri Mooring says the federation has been working with the province but some of its biggest concerns have not been met.
People have been told that physical distancing is the most effective measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and Mooring says teachers want to do their part.
However, she says the restart plan for kindergarten to Grade 12 has made no change to classroom density and it’s impossible to physical distance with 30 people in a classroom, even using learning groups.
The federation is calling for seven changes including smaller class sizes, dedicated funding for heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment, expanding mandatory mask use for children aged 10 and older to anywhere that physical distancing isn’t possible, which includes classrooms and laboratories.
The Education Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Learning groups were established on the advice of the provincial health officer to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19 and could be made up of a single class of students or multiple classes.
Using 30 students who are 17 years old in a classroom for hours as an example, Mooring says it is impossible to maintain physical distancing.
“B.C. needs to reduce classroom density and mandate mask use whenever appropriate physical distancing isn’t possible. That includes our work spaces like classrooms, labs, and libraries — not just common spaces like hallways. B.C. teachers are workers, just like any other profession in this province, and they need to be safe.”
On Monday, the ministry announced staff and students at middle and secondary schools will be required to wear masks on buses and in common areas like hallways when classes resume on Sept. 10.
The provincial government says masks will also be required whenever students and teachers are outside their learning group and cannot maintain an appropriate physical distance because of COVID-19.
Students who can’t wear masks for medical reasons will be exempt from the updated health and safety guidelines.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 19, 2020.
Amy Smart, The Canadian Press