Western Canadian teachers call for more protection after schools reopen

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Elementary and secondary schools across Western Canada have reopened after the Christmas holidays as provincial governments have come under fire from teachers over what they say is a lack of protective measures against the COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Elementary and secondary schools across Western Canada have reopened after the Christmas holidays as provincial governments have come under fire from teachers over what they say is a lack of protective measures against the COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Schools in British Columbia and Alberta reopened on Monday, with health and education officials stressing the need for in-person learning. Saskatchewan schools returned the previous week as planned.

Teachers’ union leaders in Saskatchewan and British Columbia have criticized the way the reopening of schools has been handled and the stress it has placed on staff.

“We have situations where learning assistants or learning resource teachers, who are specialist teachers, are taken out of their classroom duties to cover staffing shortages,” said Patrick Maze, the head teacher. of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation. “The learning agenda suffers when you have so many transitions going on in schools.”

The president of the BC Teachers’ Federation agreed with these concerns. Teri Mooring said teachers want better access to N95 masks in schools as well as priority for booster shots.

Four schools in British Columbia announced functional closures this week, meaning there weren’t enough staff to teach students.

“We are concerned that there will be many more functional closures. It is difficult for us to understand why the additional security measures that we are calling for are not being put in place,” Mooring said in an interview.

She said refusing to respond to union demands could lead to staff shortages in schools.

“We believe that with these safety measures, teachers and support staff are more likely to stay healthy,” she said. “This whole thing of doing the bare minimum has always been a problem in education. We would like to see a more preventative approach rather than a bare minimum approach.”

British Columbia Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said in an interview that teachers would not be prioritized for vaccines and that the government has taken steps to manage the risks posed by the virus.

“It’s a balancing act. One thing we are very committed to in British Columbia…is to ensure that children and youth remain at the center of our decision-making. We know how important it is to have access to learning,” said Jennifer Whiteside.

But Cameron Phillips, a parent and high school teacher in Vancouver, said he wonders if the BC government is thinking about the long-term health effects for students.

Phillips said he and his wife, who is an elementary school teacher, decided to keep their children home this week as they assessed the COVID-19 situation in schools.

“As a parent, I am concerned about the future health of my children,” he said. “As a teacher, I love my children. I love my students. I know the school I teach at has many multi-generational families. There are so many students in my classes who are terrified to the idea of ​​taking it home to auntie or grandma and causing pain or havoc in their families.”

Phillips said he was “baffled” by the reluctance to provide N95 masks to students and staff, and would like to see better ventilation in schools.

Saskatchewan’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr Saqib Shahab, said schools have done a commendable job of continuing in-person learning in a safe manner.

“One thing we’ve seen is how important it is to keep learning in the classroom as much as possible while also accepting higher transmission, which is not just unique to school, it happens produced in health care, schools, all workplaces,” he said. noted.

In Alberta, as the number of Omicron infections hit a record high this week, the president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association said he was concerned about the future of students in classrooms because ” community spread echoes in schools”.

“I anticipate we’ll have more of what we’ve seen this year, but it could escalate, so we’ll see more absences, we’ll see more failures for schools to fill absent teachers,” Jason said. Schilling on Friday.

Alberta has left it up to schools to contact traces of infections.

Hundreds of students and dozens of teachers were reported absent on the Edmonton Public Schools Board website Thursday. Of 105,151 students in the division, 3.16% were absent due to COVID-19 and 3.56% were absent due to other illnesses.

The Calgary School Board also said its absenteeism rate for K-12 students was 20.2% on Wednesday.

“With files from Fakiha Baig in Edmonton and Mickey Djuric in Regina.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on January 14, 2022.

This story was produced with financial assistance from Facebook and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Nick Wells, The Canadian Press

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