Read our latest updates related to COVID-19.
Last updated: April 6, 2020 at 10:33 am

April 6, 2020

Message from STA President, Matt Westphal

The Ministry of Education prepared a framework document for how learning is to continue while students are not physically in school. As that document is 45 pages long, the BCTF has prepared the following summary, which we hope teachers will find helpful.

Summary from BCTF President, Teri Mooring

The Ministry released a framework document entitled Supporting The K–12 Education Response to COVID-19 on March 27, 2020. The BCTF had input into the development of the document. It contains information about the decisions that have been made thus far for K–12 education in BC in the context of a provincial state of emergency. This document provides a framework for districts using the guiding principles that the province has developed. Local Presidents are using this document to work collaboratively with districts, so decisions are made to ensure the safety of everyone, using the best health information available under the direction of the Ministry of Health and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

Co-ordinated advocacy at all levels
K–12 Education Partners are working together to figure out how we can contribute to continuity of learning opportunities, while keeping everyone healthy and safe. Representatives of teachers, support workers, principals and vice-principals, superintendents, trustees, and the Ministry of Education are in constant communication. I am in close contact with the Ministry of Education, the BC Public Schools Employers’ Association, and the BC Schools Superintendents Association and discuss emerging issues with them several times a day.

The BCTF also has representatives who sit on Ministry of Education committees in order to inform Continuity of Learning Opportunities. BCTF participation has helped to shape the Integrated Planning Framework issued by the Ministry to districts. While we do not agree with everything in the Framework, overall the direction the Province has taken is conducive to ensuring health and safety.

Locals are key stakeholders for consultation
The Ministry of Education has emphasized to school boards that our locals are key stakeholders and must be consulted with early and often and has directed districts to ensure that BCTF locals are included in district stakeholder advisory teams. The BCTF is supporting locals by providing ongoing, intensive support from BCTF Field Service Admin Staff, the Executive Committee, and holding frequent conference calls with locals to keep them updated on emerging information. I know many Local Presidents have worked long hours throughout Spring Break in order to ensure that the BCTF has the information it needs to carry out this advocacy and to ensure that districts are attending to health and safety.

The Ministry has also directed boards to work with medical health officers to ensure that schools are safe.

Guiding Principle 1: Health and safety is everyone’s number one priority
We have emphasized to government that we need to go slow because we mustn’t accidentally undermine the critical public health measures that necessitated suspension of in-class instruction. We have also highlighted that the employer has a responsibility to ensure that the workplace is safe and healthy. We all have a responsibility to socially distance ourselves from others, including our coworkers.

The government has a set of guiding principles to inform K–12 during this time, and their number one priority is to “ensure a healthy and safe environment for all students, families and employees.”

This means:

  • not all teachers need to immediately report to the worksite. If you have a health condition which makes you vulnerable (including pregnancy) or are caring for someone in a vulnerable category, if you are self-isolating, if you have young children and no childcare, or if there are other circumstances which interfere with your ability to report to the worksite.
  • some locations will have staggered work schedules and limited building access.
  • some workspace arrangements (e.g., shared prep office) will need to be changed in order to ensure social distancing.
  • If you are ill, please do not come to work.

The BC Centre for Disease Control and Ministry of Health have issued advice to districts on the operation of schools. The Provincial Health Officer has provided a great deal of public education on what social distancing means. If teachers are concerned that their work arrangement does not meet the requirements of social distancing, please encourage them to contact their Staff Rep and/or the local office.

Guiding Principle 2: Providing the services needed to support children of our essential workers
During this unusual time, some teachers will be providing care to children of essential workers. This is for children ages 5–12. In some cases, care for children 0–5 will continue in schools, however, teachers will not be responsible for those children.

In the immediate future this means that some children of hospital workers in regions which have a high concentration of cases will be attending school sites. In some places this is already happening, and districts have been working with health authorities in order to ensure health and safety.

Over the next few weeks additional children will be provided with care. We are urging districts to do this slowly and carefully in collaboration with the Local President. It is possible to fulfil this need in a way that does not jeopardize health and safety or increase the spread of COVID. In some places, CUPE workers and outside childcare providers will be providing this service. In other places, volunteer teachers and TTOCs are doing this work as well. Districts have been encouraged to plan around hospital shifts, which means that the hours of care will be broader than instructional hours, generally 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Before and after school care may be provided by outside childcare providers, in order to provide care from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., five days a week. This is an important service schools are serving to ensure hospitals in the province are well staffed and able to support those who are the sickest due to COVID-19.

Guiding Principle 3: Support vulnerable students who may need special assistance
As teachers, we know that schools provide a broad range of support to students, such as providing meals and health services such as occupational services. Work is underway to ensure that these services continue in a way that ensures the health and safety of all. As time goes on, districts are looking at ways to ensure that non-enrolling teachers can continue to provide additional services to vulnerable students.

The Ministry has directed districts with meal programs to work with health authorities in order to ensure health and safety.

During this time, students need to know that they are valued and that they are still part of a school community. Students’ sense of well-being may continue to shift as the pandemic evolves. Schools and school districts should keep in mind that students who were not considered vulnerable prior to the COVID-19 outbreak may now be experiencing mental health challenges.

Specialist teachers, educational assistants, speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists, and others who support vulnerable students will continue to have a role to play in students’ lives.

Guiding Principle 4: Provide continuity of educational opportunities for all students
The initial phase of continuity of educational opportunities is a need assessment. Teachers will work with principals in order to determine how to do this. In many places it will likely involve teachers phoning families in order to begin a conversation around what resources the family has available, you have likely already begun this work. Teachers will use their professional skillsets in order to compassionately assess the ability of students and families to support learning. During normal times teachers provide students with social and emotional support, and during this time social and emotional support will make an incredible difference in the lives of students. Schools may be closed, but teachers’ hearts are open.

Technology
The Ministry has communicated to districts that teachers will use their professional judgement in determining how to communicate with students. Everyone understands that it is unrealistic to expect that teachers will simply switch to online delivery.

The Ministry has stated that some teachers will connect with their students in a primarily online environment. Others will use strategies that utilize more traditional resources. Educators everywhere will need to be sensitive to the fact that not all students have regular (or any) access to technology, so allowances should be made for “low tech” ways for students to engage in learning experiences.

We caution members against using personal devices for work and against rapidly adopting new platforms without adequate training and administrative support.

Distributed Learning
There has been a surge in applications of new DL enrollments, however, the Ministry has halted DL enrollment. Given that students no longer have access to school-based resources, and that K–12 education overall has shifted to educational opportunities, DL courses may need to be modified accordingly.

Reporting
The Ministry has indicated that teachers across the province are empowered to determine a final grade for children based on work completed to-date and the assessment of participation in learning opportunities that will occur over the coming months. Teachers are expected to prepare report cards for their students for June.

The evaluation of learning taking place after the suspension of in-class instruction should be in relation to a smaller selection of learning standards which students are able to complete at home.

British Columbia’s Student Reporting Policy allows significant flexibility for schools and school districts regarding the content and format of report cards.

Graduation
The Minister has made it clear that all students who are on track to graduate will graduate. Conversations are ongoing regarding students who may have been struggling to meet graduation requirements. The priority will be on the 80 credits and courses needed for graduation. The Ministry is not mandating or specifying the minimum number of hours that must be completed for a student to receive credit for a Grade 10, 11, or 12 course. Hours do not necessarily reflect the actual learning that occurs. The focus is on determining if, and how, sufficient learning has taken place during these exceptional circumstances. Sufficient learning will be determined by teachers using their professional judgement.

The Ministry is working with the BC post-secondary system to facilitate successful transitions, including issuing transcripts.

Career life connections
For the specific requirement of 30 hours of work experience or career-life experience, students can be given many opportunities to fulfil these requirements in alternative ways. For example, students could do work around their home such as babysitting younger siblings, household cleaning, yard maintenance, food preparation, maintenance work or household accounting.

Provincial assessments
Provincial assessments will not take place this year with one exception. Most students who are on track to graduate have already taken the Numeracy 10 assessment, but a fraction of this group have not. Arrangements will be made to ensure that these students are able to complete the Numeracy 10 assessment, and since it is a small group it is feasible to ensure that it can be done in a safe way.

Parent communication
In terms of timelines, the Ministry has indicated that continuity of educational opportunities will begin in mid-April. We have emphasized from the beginning that there is no rush and proper planning must occur first. Some parents are anxious that their children will fall behind. In the context of a global pandemic, education as we know it has ground to a halt around the world, and everyone is having to adjust to new ways of doing things. Administrators need to take the lead in communicating with parents in order to give teachers time and space to plan.

March 28, 2020

Message from STA President, Matt Westphal

This has been a spring break like no other in our careers. We face many challenges in this public health crisis, and we must prepare to continue providing learning opportunities to students in a completely new format. The magnitude of what is ahead of us is huge, but we know teachers are extremely creative and caring people, and what we have to offer Surrey kids at this time is a continuity of contact with us—calm and professional adults dedicated to their learning and well-being.

We have been in daily contact with senior management over the break, and the agree that we will need to be patient with ourselves and with each other in this process. Adapting instruction to be able to support all students remotely will take time. You have seen Jordan Tinney’s videos to students, staff and parents; in each of them he has emphasized it will take time to figure out what to do. We know he has stressed this to principals as well.

The STA has been working throughout the break with the District on various issues relating to the return to work. There are lots of questions that remain unanswered, and that too will take time. We will be sharing information with you as it becomes available. We have send out a letter to STA reps and Staff Committee chairs helping them orient their school-level leadership to the many questions and concerns at hand. Our central advice to you is to carry on with your students as well as you can, and take the time you need to decide what needs to be done and how you are going to do it.

We know that this is a particularly difficult time for members who are Teachers Teaching On-Call. TTOCs are facing great stress and uncertainty. We are continuing to discuss with the District how to lessen the impact of school closures on TTOCs, but at present it does appear as though TTOCs will need to rely on Employment Insurance and the new relief programs that have been announced by the federal and provincial governments.

As for us at the STA office, we are here for you! We will mostly be working remotely, and our physical office will be closed to members and the public. The general switchboard (604-594-5353) will be open 9 am to 4 pm. For health and safety reasons we will have minimal staffing in our office. If the line is busy, please leave a message or try calling back later.

Table officers’ roles, emails, and direct phone lines are available here:
https://www.surreyteachers.org/about-us/table-officers/

Members can also email general inquiries to sta@surreyteachers.org which will be directed to a table officer for an answer.

We anticipate that you will have many questions, and a lot of what is coming is completely new to us as well, so please be patient with us as we work to answer your questions.

Teachers and associated professionals will provide much-needed education, support, and stability to our students through these unprecedented times. Good luck with your work this week in this new world!

Finally, If you prefer to receiving your information directly from the STA, rather than via a staff rep or someone else, please send your email address to Stacy at repsupport@surreyteachers.org.

March 25, 2020

Message from STA President, Matt Westphal

Discussions have been taking place with the District about the return to work next week. We know that people’s most urgent concern is health and safety, and whether they will need to report to their work site on Monday. The STA’s strong position is that no STA members should be forced to report physically to their worksite, and that everyone should have the option to work remotely. The Board needs to be consulted first, but the District committed to communicating with employees on this issue by the end fo the day tomorrow. We will share more information as it becomes available.

March 21, 2020

Message from STA President, Matt Westphal

As you know, schools will be closed to students on March 30, but we will be expected to return to work in some form. There are still many unanswered questions at this point. The BCTF has been working closely with BCPSEA and the Ministry of Education, and the STA has been in contact with the school district. Safety is, of course, paramount, so the union has been pushing for people to be able to work remotely, rather than having to report physically to their work sites. We know there are also many questions about how people will continue to perform their work, and also about whether TTOCs will have any options available to them other than Employment Insurance.

Please note that no one—including your employer—expects you to be working over the break to create online versions of your courses. Plans about “continuity of learning” are still being made, so we caution against putting too much effort in before we know what that will look like.

Below are the questions the STA has raised with the school district. We have not yet received answers, but will share more information as we receive it.

In the meantime, please do what you can to stay safe.

Questions the STA has raised with Human Resources

    Return to work
    Preliminary communications suggest that teachers will be returning to work. The most prudent option, to avoid the risk of exposure, would be for people not to report to their work site (particularly the larger sites, but really, for all sites). Some employees are in high-risk categories, or are caring for people who are. That raises a number of questions about safety:

    1. Are schools being cleaned over Spring Break?
    2. Must everyone report to work in person, or will there be options to work from home?
    3. What options are available for employees who do not consider it safe for them to report physically to their work site?
    4. If pregnant employees cannot safety work as a result of the virus, what will happen? (Our view is that they should not be required to start a maternity leave early in such circumstances.)
    5. In light of the indefinite closure, what will be expected of employees who are in self-isolation or quarantine, in the following categories:
    1. Self-isolation as a result of exposure in Canada
    2. Self-isolation as a result of travel to a destination for which there was no travel advisory at the time of departure
    3. Self-isolation as a result of travel to a destination for which there was a travel advisory at the time of depature
    4. Quarantine flowing from any of the scenarios a) to c)


    Child Care
    We know that there are concerns about ensuring that health care workers will have child care so that they can continue to work. Many teachers have young children, so child care is a serious concern for them as well.

    1. What will be happening with daycares operating in schools?
    2. Will further provision be made to expand child care in schools?
    3. What will employees do who no longer have daycare available for their own children? Can they bring their own children to school, if they are required to be on site?


    Leaves

    1. What happens to people currently on pregnancy and parental leaves who are scheduled to return at the end of the school year?
    2. Can people currently on unpaid leaves through the end of the school year return early from such leaves?


    Special categories of employee

    1. What will PTOCs be doing on March 30? As contract teachers, they should be treated in the same fashion as other contract teachers.
    2. When will TTOCs get Records of Employment? I have heard that people have been told March 23.
    3. What about employees who have contracts but also TTOC? For example, some people have part-time assignments and TTOC on other days. Or some contract teachers are on full leave (e.g. professional growth leave) but working part of the time as TTOCs. Normally people in such positions would not be eligible for EI, but the rules for EI are in flux as the federal government seeks to support workers. Will ROEs be issued for them?
    4. In light of the indefinite closure of schools, and the closure of the US border to non-essential traffic, would teachers living in the United States be able to work remotely?


    Work Expectations
    Our understanding from the BCTF is that contract teachers will continue to be paid. Can you confirm that this is the case, and whether that will continue to the end of the school year?

    1. What will be the expectations regarding “continuous learning opportunities”?
    2. How will professional autonomy be accommodated in teachers’ work?
    3. Will there be an expectation of providing students with work packages, or delivering education online?
    4. What work will associated professionals (School Psychologists, Speech and Language Pathologists, Social Workers) be expected to do on March 30?
    5. What mechanisms can be put in place to avoid a massive duplication of effort among teachers?
    6. Will staff be expected to use their own technology to perform their work, and what assistance will be in place for those who cannot?


    STA-HR Issues

    1. How will we do the work we need to do together, such as grievance and investigation meetings?
    2. What will happen with various deadlines under the collective agreement under these extraordinary circumstances?
    3. How will schools adapt their processes for staffing and school planning (e.g. consultation with School Staff Committees under Article E.26, or internal reassignments, or school organizations which would normally involve extensive discussion among staff)?
    4. Will the transfer rounds continue as scheduled and, if so, what changes (e.g. interviews by Skype, etc.) need to be made to keep it safe?
    5. Will remedy still accrue?


    Miscellaneous

      1. What about our EA’s and other CUPE staff? Will they get paid as well? (Although that is a matter for CUPE to address on behalf of its members, STA members are concerned for their colleagues.)
      2. What will the District be doing to explain to students what will be happening with schools? What is needed is a child-friendly and child-centred PSA to help them understand what is going on.