NDTA asks SD68 for policies for mandatory masks, and 15 students per classroom

Rachelle Stein-Wotten

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Gabriola Sounder

Thursday, December 23 2021

A mandatory mask policy indoors when physical distancing is not possible as well as a maximum of 15 students per classroom are some of the requests the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association has for the school district. 

The NDTA’s Dec. 4 letter to the Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools board of education includes 10 recommendations “to address the health and safety needs of teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The letter from NDTA president Denise Wood acknowledges the district’s efforts to implement Ministry of Education health and safety guidelines. “We want to see schools remain open, and we want to continue to support students, however, we believe that safety could be improved.”

Some of the other recommendations are to educate families on self-isolation and staying at home when sick, monitor and provide updates on air quality to each school’s health and safety committee, provide air scrubbers for Ladysmith Intermediate and Cilaire Elementary – two schools that have classrooms with no ventilation and where staff have been instructed to keep windows open – and to “inform classroom teachers, non-enrolling [itinerant] teachers and TTOCs [teachers teaching on call] of known increased exposure risks, including if there is a known instance of a positive COVID-19 test result in a classroom or cohort.”

When a school has a confirmed COVID-19 exposure, all school staff receive a letter from Island Health, said Dale Burgos, spokesperson for NLPS. “Due to the large amount of non-enrolling and TTOCs working in our schools, we ask them to continually check the Island Health exposures in schools webpage,” Burgos said. 

The NDTA is most concerned about itinerant teachers and TTOCs who do not receive that letter and find out about exposures at the same time as the general public, Wood told the Sounder. Only TTOCs who have had face-to-face contact with someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19 are contacted by Island Health, she said. The NDTA has raised their concerns with district administration but have been told that sending TTOCs the same general information received by schools is not possible logistically. Wood has not been told why.

“We have made a suggestion that they could send an email to all staff saying that there has been an exposure at a particular school,” she said.

The NDTA also wants the district to strike a planning committee for hybrid and remote teaching that has teacher representation.

Burgos said the district’s stage 2 restart plan includes the model used in the spring should the Ministry of Education and Provincial Health Officer order a return to it. 

According to the restart plan, which was approved by the ministry in late August, mask-wearing within classrooms is optional but required in some situations such as high-traffic areas at secondary schools.

Wood said teachers had a chance to raise their concerns in the development of the restart plan, which was updated Nov. 18, and some were addressed, but “it was not what I would call input.

“We weren’t collaborators on that.”

The board of education passed a motion at their Dec. 16 meeting to refer the NDTA’s correspondence to the teacher trustee liaison committee, which next meets Jan. 7. 

“That committee is really about communication between teachers and trustees, it’s not a committee that would do any of the planning,” said Wood, who sits on the committee.

The district had no COVID-19 exposures in schools through October. 

The first exposure appeared at Dover Bay Secondary on Nov. 2. 

Seven other schools in the district have had exposures as of Dec. 18 all of which have aligned with increased community spread seen on Vancouver Island.

There has not been an exposure at Gabriola Elementary School.

“We’re very concerned about what’s going to happen over the break with families that could be travelling or hosting families from out of town,” Wood said. 

“We would just really encourage families to monitor themselves, to keep students home if they’re showing any symptoms at all and we would encourage families to send students to school in January wearing masks.”