Prince Rupert District Teachers Union is calling for SD52 to increase protection from COVID-19 in classrooms. Union members are seen lobbying for additional funding in Prince Rupert in October 2019. (Northern View File Photo)

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

SD 52 should increase precautions to stop spread of COVID-19 in classrooms - PRDTU

Prince Rupert teachers are concerned School District 52 is not doing enough to prevent COVID-19 infections to protect students and staff at school, with classes resuming on Sept. 10.

In a press release issued on Sept. 4, Prince Rupert teachers call on SD52 to do more to prevent COVID-19 infections and increase protection for everyone in the classrooms.

Gabriel Bureau, president of the Prince Rupert Teachers’ Union (PRDTU) said School District 52 should use its share of the $242 million in federal funding for B.C. to prevent outbreaks at school.

The PRDTU wants the school district to use the funds to lower classroom density to smaller size classes, support students who require remote instruction for medical or health reasons, and to put in place additional safety measures for schools and classrooms.

Bureau explained that many classes in the school district have been organized in a way where it will be difficult to accommodate social distancing in full classes and teachers have not yet seen final plans and wont see them until Sept. 8.

“There are going to be regular class sizes which means that from grade four on there can be up to 30 students. It will be regular pre-covid class size and schedules,” Bureau told The Northern View about elementary schools. The high school has a different schedule he said.

“Parents and teachers are looking to the school district to ensure that every possible precaution has been taken to ensure schools are as safe as they can be,” Bureau said. “If the government was offering the possibility of what we had in the spring-time of part-time online and part-time class or on alternate days, it would reduce the number of kids in the class.”

“Now that there is new money available, the school district should take action to make sure physical distancing is possible in our schools, that proper ventilation is provided, and that classroom densities are lowered.”

The installation of plexiglass zones around allocated desk space is one suggestion by the union, so staff who travel between locations can interact closely but without contact.

“As for the ventilation. We don’t know for sure. There seems to be some indication that some classes don’t have the proper ventilation. There are ways to use equipment that could be bought for a few classes,” he said.

Potential ventilation issues could be remedied by putting in place portable air purifiers in windowless classrooms or rooms without adequate fresh air.

“The Minister of Education told British Columbians that every student who needs it should have access to remote learning supports and that districts should be using the federal funding to hire more teachers and put in place health and safety measures,” Bureau said. “With the additional resources in place our school district can get moving on putting in place protections for all students and staff. We also need to see some quick action in our schools to end the crowding that has too many students in classrooms with poor ventilation.”

Bureau said despite being posted on the school districts website, the back to school plan is relatively vague for teachers.

“For example it says recess will be staggered, but teachers are more interested in how they will be staggered. There is a lot of uncertainty as to how things will be,” he said.

“If a teachers job means going from school to school, or to be on call, or to be a primary counsellor who goes to all the elementary schools, they don’t know the measures that are in place. They will find out on Tuesday,” Bureau said.

Prince Rupert teachers are under stress due to late announcements of plans, but the union is not blaming the board, Bureau said.

“(Teachers) will have two days, which is helpful, for them to see how they are feeling, but they are not really optimistic. For many that is very clear,” Bureau said.

Bureau acknowledges that while times are difficult for everyone, there is still time for the government to make things better.

“They have made an effort but there is still time to make things safer and for the district to put pressure on the government,” he said.

The Northern View reached out to SD 52 for comment, but did not hear back by time of print.

K-J Millar | Journalist 
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