The president of the Kamloops Thompson Teachers Association was shocked phase two of the province’s restart plan for the coming school year — a plan that intends to see most students return to school on a full-time basis — has strayed from the original.
In May, the government announced all K-7 students would return to class full-time, five days a week, while grades 8-12 would be part-time, two day a week with some remote and online learning. Last week, however, Education Minister Rob Fleming announced all K-12 students would return to schools full-time in segregated learning groups — 60 for elementary and middle schools and 120 for secondary schools.
“It kind of took us off guard because we weren’t anticipating it was going to be 100 per cent full-time in September,” Kamloops-Thompson Teachers’ Association president Laurel MacPherson said.
She said the plan revealed last week needs more discussion, describing the school cohorts concept as a “huge idea” that teachers will have to figure out essentially on the fly.
“It’s not an easy task,” MacPherson said. “There are working groups that we have advocated for to continue to do the work in order to plan for this new stage.”
The KTTA is committed to working with the Kamloops-Thompson school district, which has done a good job including the union in decisions and seeking its advice since the pandemic began back in March, MacPherson said
MacPherson said the association has many concerns heading into the fall, but the number one priority is the health and safety of students and teachers.
The number of bodies that will be in schools is one example, MacPherson said, as there will be many people confined to small areas without mandatory mask use.
Another question mark is how teachers and students will be protected when sharing equipment and supplies in a classroom.
Asked if these details will resemble what was implemented in June when the province implemented a part-time resumption of classes, MacPherson said there’s much more to consider with a full class compared to the small groups that came back at the end of the year.
“None of this is easy, it’s a pandemic,” MacPherson said.
“I think everybody’s going to be a little bit apprehensive about going back and trying to do what the government has told us to do.”
The cohort model will likely be easier at the elementary level as students are already contained to one classroom and breaks can be staggered throughout the day to minimize, but that’s more difficult at the secondary level with various electives and timetables for students, MacPherson said.
SD73 Supt. Alison Sidow has said for larger, overcrowded schools in Kamloops they may need to implement a hybrid model where there is some online learning and some face-to-face instruction.
BC Teachers Federation president Teri Mooring said that while the union also wants to see students and teachers back in the classroom this fall, the plan the government revealed needs more work.
Moorings said there is time to do that work, and is calling on the province to address a number of key concerns, such as ensuring health and safety measures are tested and in place before students and staff return to schools.
Those suggestions include providing time in September for teachers to prepare and ensure health protocols are effective, smaller class sizes for physical distancing and more clarity on how the proposed cohort model will keep teachers safe while ensuring kids get their full educational experience.