Safety Urged for Students, Staff

A group of educators has written an open letter to Premier Brian Pallister calling on the government to implement measures to ensure schools are safe for staff and students.

“We write to you today, in solidarity with our health care and essential service workers, to identify the broken conditions of our system,” says the letter to Pallister and Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen.

“The current experiences of our teachers, school leaders and support staff during this critical juncture of surging COVID-19 infections is unsustainable.”

The letter outlines needed measures The Manitoba Teachers’ Society has been pressing the government to implement for some time. The Society has called on members to “use their voice” to reinforce MTS’s efforts.

Areas in which the educators want action, include:

  • Reduction in class sizes through additional hiring of educators and support staff.
  • Sustainable workloads for teachers, which includes reasonable classroom/learning arrangements.
  • A “universal standard” for a minimum of two-meters physical distancing between students.
  • A clear policy for substitute recruitment, retention and safety. Some divisions are having difficulty finding substitute teachers.
  • Prompt contact tracing and quick testing of staff and students with the inevitable waves of COVID-19.

“Our ability to continue supporting our students and families in in jeopardy – this is our breaking point and the collapse of our system is imminent.”

The letter points to examples where teachers are teaching both in-class students and others remotely at the same time.

As well, it says schools in Manitoba are experiencing high levels of “failure-to-fills” when a job is unfilled by a substitute teacher.

“In some schools there are no positions to cover these absences, relying instead on teachers who should be prepping for their own students.”

It also points out that principals are conducting preliminary contact-tracing investigations after being contacted by families because of delays in official contact tracing.

The educators want the province to show where it is spending the $85.4 million it received from the federal government for school safety.

“We have yet to see substantial improved conditions with this public fund” that could go to the measures requested in the letter.

“If we continue on this trajectory, this pandemic is going to cost us more than the dollars and cents that are presumably being saved by this government. We cannot sustain and carry this system without critical support.”

MTS President James Bedford welcomed the letter in that it reinforces the Society’s position in direct talks with the government.

“MTS leadership shares the concerns of these public school teachers, school leaders, clinicians and staff. We welcome their voice and courage.

“MTS has repeatedly called for the release of federal funds intended specifically to address our schools’ pandemic-related needs. While that money has flowed in other provinces, it has trickled, at best, here in Manitoba.”