Kootenay teachers’ union going to labour relations board over COVID-19 related work conditions

Union issues open letter to premier, education minister, health minister and Dr. Bonnie Henry.

The Kootenay Columbia Teachers’ Union (KCTU) is not satisfied with how things are going since returning to school and they are taking legal action at the Labour Relations Board.

KCTU is a local branch of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation representing more than 300 public school teachers in Kootenay Columbia School District 20 (SD20).

RELATED: SD20 releases back-to-school plan

In an open letter to Premier John Horgan, Minister of Education Robert Fleming, Minister of Health Adrian Dix and Dr. Bonnie Henry the KCTU says, “You can all do better to keep all of us safer in our schools during this pandemic!”

The union says the Ministry of Education’s plans are more focused on containment and contract tracing than on prevention.

KCTU president Andy Davidoff said, “We were compelled to write this letter because of the inconsistencies with the Ministry of Education and BC Centre for Disease Control guidelines with the level of direction to the school board and the ease by which anyone can deconstruct the learning cohort model.”

KCTU says that a survey of their members identified at least 70 concerns with the current plans and protocols within SD20.

Those concerns cover a wide array of issues including lack of sinks in portables, high school students not following rules, insufficient sanitizing, contradictory advice on windows regarding COVID and wildfire smoke, physical distancing problems in larger classes, no real breaks for teachers, crowded busses, students from multiple cohorts in same classes and common spaces, burden of preparing materials for self-isolating students, concerns over student mass gatherings, insufficient cleaning and site visits from school board office staff after confirmed COVID-19 cases at that office.

“We started building the list before we had two confirmed cases of COVID-19 at our School Board Office and one case at one of our high schools — as we’re responding to individual member concerns and communicating them to the SD20 COVID-19 Team at the Board Office,” said the KCTU.

The union has been requesting remote teaching and learning options in the district since well before the new school year began, but unlike many districts across the province, SD20 is not offering any remote options.

PREVIOUS: Kootenay teachers’ union responds to SD20 back-to-school plan

“We have been forced to taking legal action against you at the LRB because you are not addressing our collective concerns, suggestions, and recommendations to help make our teaching and our student learning conditions safer,” states the letter.

On Sept. 17 KCTU raised all 70 of their concerns at an SD20 Joint Occupation Health and Safety Committee meeting “despite the objections raised by the Board of Education’s appointee to the committee,” according to the the union.

The letter concludes with the statement: “Our schools should be the safest place for us and our students and not an incubator for breeding the COVID-19 virus!”

The full text of the letter can be found below.

Castlegar News has reached out to SD20 and Minister Fleming for comment.

——————————

Dear Premier Horgan, Ministers Fleming & Dix and Dr. Henry,

We hope that you are well during this “double-whammy” pandemic and smoke event and that none of your loved have not been bitten by the COVID-19 bug.

Our thoughts and prayers are with our SD20 colleagues and their families who have been severely impacted by contracting this pernicious virus.

The current BC Centre for Disease Control and Ministry of Education plans and protocols are focused on “containment” and not “prevention” and the “Learning Group/Cohort” model is more conducive to contact tracing and not preventing the spread of the virus in our schools.

We have surveyed our members in our local and have identified at least 70 concerns (see attached) with the current plans and protocols.

We started building the list before we had two confirmed cases Of COVID-19 at our School Board Office and case at one of our high schools as were responding to individual member concerns and communicating them to the SD20 COVID-19 Team at the Board Office.

We and our District Parent Advisory Committee have been requesting a fulsome remote teaching and learning option in our district for weeks before school started and our Board has refused to implement this option at any site even after we now have confirmed cases at two of our sites because of your guidelines and protocols and advice!

We have been forced to taking legal action against you at the LRB because you are not addressing our collective concerns, suggestions, and recommendations to help make our teaching and our student learning conditions safer.

Yesterday, we raised all of 70 concerns at our District Joint Occupation Health & Safety Committee Meeting despite the objections raised by the Board of Education’s appointee to the committee.

We are committed to strongly advocating and improving our members’ and students’ teaching and learning conditions and health and safety.

We are taking legal action at the LRB to do this and will continue to pursue every legal action at our disposal to ensure our collective health and safety.

Our schools should be the safest place for us and our students and not an incubator for breeding the COVID-19 virus!

Respectfully submitted,

Andrew Davidoff

President, Kootenay Columbia Teachers’ Union



betsy.kline@castlegarnews.com

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