Letter to Members – March 30

March 30, 2020
Dear NOSTA members,
Good afternoon, everyone. Much progress has been made in planning for your safe return to work in SD83 since my last letter to you on March 26 th . As I said then, a few days under these strange conditions of COVID-19 is a long time.

First, I hope that you were able to be productive today in getting yourself ready for the week ahead, whether you were participating in Microsoft Teams training, researching on-line resources, or setting up an at-home work space. Many of you will have a chance to retrieve your work materials from school, reconnect with colleagues and begin to reconnect with students and families both personally and educationally. Perhaps the best way to approach work life right now is one day at a time.

As you may have read in Ministry of Education and SD83 documents, the guiding principles of the COVID-19 response in BC Education are as follows, in priority order:

  1. Ensure a healthy and safe environment for all students, families and
  2. Provide the services needed to support children of our essential workers.
  3. Support vulnerable students who may need special assistance.
  4. Provide continuity of educational opportunities for all students.

With respect to number 1, I can now say with confidence that School District 83 is doing its full due diligence in providing you with as safe a worksite as possible. Norma Jean and I were able to meet this morning with Peter Jory, Ryan Brennan, Brenda Mackay (the new SD83 Health and Safety manager) and CUPE to discuss the plan, make suggestions and ask questions. Since then I have been able to review an initial draft of the Exposure Control Plan. It is extensive and thorough, and when finalized it will be available to you on the SD83 website. It must be reiterated, however, that in addition to District-mandated standards for things like cleaning of surfaces and controlling the number of people in a building at any given time, your personal safety in schools will be highly dependent on your own vigilance with hygiene habits and physical distancing. The most effective methods of reducing your risk of contracting COVID-19 remain washing your hands frequently with soap and physical distancing. You can also contribute to effective hygiene in schools by trusting the system the custodians are using and NOT bringing your own cleaning products from home.

I am also confident that if you fall under any of the 4 criteria listed in Mr. Jory’s recent letter to staff, or have no viable daycare option for your own children under 12, you will be respectfully supported in your requirement to stay or work from home. Please communicate directly with your site administrator to make collaborative plans that suit your personal situation. Atrieve will continue to be used to report if you are too sick to fulfill your work duties, with the addition of a “COVID-19” button that will allow you to report if your illness is a confirmed or presumptive case of COVID-19. The District has indicated that if you are so unfortunate as to contract COVID-19, you will not have to use sick days to recover.

With respect to numbers 2 and 3, this week is all about information gathering. NOSTA has had productive and collaborative conversations with the Senior Leadership Team about how these services might look, but until there is an understanding of how many students and families in these categories present with genuine need, firm planning for the care and education of this minority of students is premature. NOSTA has been assured that it is administrators, in collaboration with school staff, who will make final decisions about which students will receive school-based services, and also that staff who are compromised in any way (as described above) will not be asked to provide face-to-face service with students. Health and safety for staff and students will remain the paramount consideration when any direct service plans are
put in to place.

With respect to number 4, you have probably seen the recent letter to teachers and accompanying documents sent by Carl Cooper in the past few days. These indicate that the district is enacting a flexible and gradual roll-out of planning, preparation and initial delivery of continuity of learning opportunities for students. No doubt there will be bumps along the way,
and everyone will have to be patient and accommodating, but the plan should allow you to meet the needs of your students in ways that are right for them as learners and for you as their teacher.

The NOSTA executive will continue to work collaboratively with the District in order to ensure that you have the peace of mind and information you need to work your way productively through these initial days and weeks after Spring Break. Nobody knows for how long in-class service will be suspended, and nobody believes that remote education services can replace the magic you create with students under normal circumstances. I hope that the reconnections you make with students, families and colleagues tomorrow and beyond lift your spirits and help you to negotiate this unprecedented period in our history. Please continue to keep NOSTA in the loop with your communications, questions and concerns. And remember, we are truly in this together.
Stay safe,
Graham Gomme
Acting President, NOSTA