The Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association is concerned about the timeline for the implementation of ‘learning groups’ mandated in the B.C. school restart plan. (SD61 photo)

Island teachers say they need more time to prepare for fall reopening

Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association says class schedules need to be reworked for cohort model

The president of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association (GVTA) says a one- or two-week extension to the fall start date could be the difference between a smooth transition back to school and a disastrous one.

Winona Waldron said the extra time would give teachers and staff the chance to map out day-to-day schedules and spaces in a COVID-19 world.

“I don’t think it has to be a super lengthy delay, but I think if you have teachers in school, setting up the health and safety protocols, figuring it out, rejigging the schedules [and] have everyone working, just without the kids.”

READ ALSO: B.C. to roll out ‘learning groups’ as part of COVID-19 back-to-school plan

The B.C. government announced the second stage of its school restart plan in July, outlining full-time, in-class instruction with students organized into ‘learning groups.’ Elementary and middle school students are to be organized in groups of 60 and secondary students in groups of 120. That’s a shift from the plan that teaching groups and school districts had been working on from earlier this summer – originally, stage two had only 40 per cent of students from Grade 8 to 12 attending in-class instruction.

The shift could be manageable, said Waldron, but it’s the lack of organization and forethought around the learning groups that concerns her. High school students take various electives and courses at different levels – something that will quickly complicate grouping.

“Logistically, it’s a lot to figure out,” she said. “My big concern is that we’re just going ahead without figuring out all those pieces first, which I think could lead to a total shut down again. This has to be done thoughtfully.”

READ ALSO: B.C.’s top doctor addresses return-to-school fears amid COVID-19

But planning with teachers is difficult over the summer and access to the school buildings could make a big difference for implementing safety protocols, Waldron said. BC Education calls not only for learning groups, but for increased spacing in classrooms, more individual and small group activities and limitations on assemblies and large gatherings.

“We need a chance to be in there physically and see that it works by doing walk-throughs with the adults,” Waldron said. “I think it’s possible to get the learning groups idea as far as contract tracing etc. but the schedules kids have right now, don’t fit into that. Those schedules need to be recreated and then there needs to be some real consideration for health and safety protocols.”

The GVTA’s concerns echo the sentiment of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF), which issued a media release July 29 calling for consultation and more clarity around the cohort model and how it would keep teachers safe while ensuring students get a full education.

The BCTF also asked for time in September so teachers could plan, prepare and take any necessary health and safety training or orientations.

“The key to ensuring the reopening plan is improved is allowing the working groups to spend more time together and identify the solutions so the appropriate planning and implementation can get done,” said Teri Mooring, BCTF president. “Those working groups have a wealth of knowledge to contribute and they should be given time to get back to work.”

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READ ALSO: Poll says parents divided over sending kids back to school


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