Gabriel Bureau president of the Prince Rupert Teachers union said on Sept. 18, local teachers support labour relations action over classroom concerns (Photo:K-J Millar/The Northern View)

Prince Rupert teachers support Labour Relations Board action

Classroom concerns are still a worry second week into school

The filing of legal action against the Ministry of Education by the BC Teachers Federation is absolutely necessary and supported by teachers in Prince Rupert, Gabriel Bureau president of the Prince Rupert District Teachers Union said.

A Labour Relations Board application filed on Sept. 17, is permitted under section 88 of the Labour Relations Code when a dispute occurs during the course of an active collective agreement, Bureau said.

Concerns, in this case surrounding COVID-19 health and safety procedures in schools, would usually be heard through the union’s grievance process, Bureau told The Northern View on Sept. 18.

However, under the grievance process multiple meetings can drag the process on to include arbitration and he knows of some grievances lasting more than two years. He believes time is of the essence due to the health and safety of workers. In Prince Rupert, there are more than 175 members of the local union and provincially just less than 35,000.

“In the meantime, we can have people that are exposed (to COVID-19) and possibly dying. I don’t want to be dramatic, but it is a possibility. That is why we believe the grievance process is not one you can use in this circumstance,” Bureau said.

An eleventh-hour change to some policies by the Ministry of Education before the start of school left the BCTF without consultation on the numbers of students permitted in class, and the use of masks in the classroom, Bureau said. Since then there has been less and less communication and no meaningful consultation between the MOE and the BCTF he said.

Bureau said he has heard concerns that in many school districts the health and safety plan as it exists is not applied properly.

READ MORE: B.C. teachers file Labour Relations Board application over COVID-19 classroom concerns

One issue is teachers are concerned over conflictual information provided by the BC Center for Disease Control and the Ministry of Education, like with the health checklists. Where there is conflicting information the Ministry of Education Health and Safety Guidelines for K to 12 hold the authority, he said.

“There is a lot of confusion about what is considered when you do a health check, like what it is they need to check for. There are different documents that describe different symptoms. Some of the lists are longer than others, so there is a lot of confusion,” Bureau said. “In Rupert, there are concerns because the plan changes from school to school and it can get confusing for parents, students and workers as to what the plan is.”

Bureau said he has heard concerns that in many school districts the health and safety plan as it exists is not applied properly.

“The plan needs to be more stringent and rigid, for example, density — the number of students in the classroom … The cohort system of 60 or 120 (students in a learning group) is a tracing process. It has nothing to do with safety. Instead, it’s more about contact tracing if there was a case, more than anything else,” Bureau said.

The use of masks is not mandated in cohorts or during class in the middle and high schools, except in common areas such as hallways during recess or lunch, he said. This affects numerous staff like teachers or councillors who go from one area to another, language teachers and music teachers.

“Those who see a multitude of students have to wear a mask to protect the student, but there is no protection from the student to the workers,” Bureau said.

READ MORE: Back to class teachers concerns are high, Prince Rupert District Teachers Union said

School District 52, for the most part, has been applying the provincial plan but at its minimum requirements, Bureau said.

“There are not many areas where they are going further. They could do, but they are not. Some teachers would like them to do more than the minimum. Some teachers believe that offering the hybrid system of online and face to face learning … This would decrease the numbers in the classroom by half, and then worry about the masks may not be an issue anymore.

The Northern View did reach out to School District 52 regarding the Labour Relations Board application.

“On that motion, we can not comment because of the legal action,” James Horne SD 52 board chairperson said. “It would not be appropriate for us to comment.”

“It’s important that we communicate. It’s important that everyone knows the board is working with Northern Health, the Provincial health office body and Health Canada, along with the Ministry of Education from B.C. We are working strictly within their guidelines to work in the best way possible that the health authorities tell us to do,” Horne said. “We are being very careful to do that. It’s important for everyone to know.”

K-J Millar | Journalist
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