The Saanich Teachers’ Association (STA) is calling on all candidates in local ridings to commit to providing a safer school environment amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Since schools reopened in September, teachers in the Saanich School District have navigated “inadequate and confusing health and safety measures from the province,” along with a custodial shortage “in a time where cleaning measures should be a top priority,” said Don Peterson, president of the STA.
Saanich teachers ask that the candidates from all parties in the Saanich North and the Islands and Saanich South ridings commit to advocating for health and safety in schools. This, Peterson said, can be achieved by increasing education funding to the national average and providing more transparent pandemic safety protocols for school districts to implement.
He said class sizes could not be reduced without adequate funding, and custodial services will remain insufficient.
Despite the pandemic, Peterson said primary school classes are larger than in previous years. He said that while some students are learning remotely this year, it can be challenging to ensure younger students follow safety protocols in the classroom.
“Since our class size and composition language was restored in 2016, after being illegally stripped by the Liberal government in 2002, we have yet to see sufficient funding” for the school districts to reduce class sizes, Peterson said.
He added that the STA is concerned that “oversized classes” mean that students’ educational needs are not being met, and teachers are overworked.
Peterson also pointed out that schools’ pandemic safety protocols are unclear and that often, the guidelines “conflict with each other.” For example, daily student health checks are not standardized and vary from district to district. The government’s plans may have “looked good on paper,” but in practice, teachers feel the need for more clarity, he said.
According to poll results released by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation on Oct. 6, 59 per cent of teachers across the province feel health and safety measures in schools are “inadequate.”
So far, there haven’t been any COVID-19 exposures in the Saanich district, “so the risk isn’t immediate, but at the same time, we need to be prepared,” Peterson said. In terms of transmission, “it’s not if, it’s when.”
The association’s position is that an education system with adequate funding is “the basis for a healthy community” and that teachers deserve the same protection and support that B.C. workers in other fields have had during the pandemic, Peterson said.