Surrey Teachers’ Association president Matt Westphal said while there were “definitely” some good things in the Ministry of Education’s September return-to-school plan, he said the STA hopes it will allow for some adjustments.
“One thing we learned is the pandemic didn’t touch all parts of B.C. equally,” Westphal told the Now-Leader following the announcement from Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Thursday (June 17).
Westphal said it was “frankly, a struggle” to get the recognition that some regions of the province might need different rules or approaches during the 2020-21 school year.
On Thursday, Whiteside and Henry announced that the 2021-22 school year would be a “near normal” return to school.
Whiteside said that there will no longer be cohorts or learning groups and that current restrictions on gatherings, sports and extra-curriculars are forecasted to be lifted.
Whiteside announced an additional $25.6 million in new, one-time school funding for continued enhanced cleaning measures, rapid response teams, mental health help and to help Indigenous students.
As well, she announced $18 million for “learning supports.” Broken down, the ministry announced to districts earlier in the year that $5.9 million was available and then Whiteside announced an additional $12.1 million on Thursday.
According to the ministry, the Surrey school district will be receiving $1.76 million of the $25.6 million for pandemic-related funding and $2.27 million of the $18 million to address learning impacts.
In the 2020-21 school year, the district received $34.35 million in provincial and federal COVID-19 relief funding.
Westphal said the STA is “very happy” the province is providing additional funding for this year, “most for the cleaning protocols but also dealing with educational equity issues and mental health supports.”
But he noted the association’s “main concern” is the “near-normal” return.
“We don’t know what the pandemic is going to be like in the fall. It’s not going to be over, even with vaccinations,” he said, pointing to elementary schools and the fact vaccines are not yet approved for children under the age of 12.
“There is a concern there, particularly, with how elementary schools will be safe.”
Meantime, Westphal said he hopes there’s training about “trauma-informed practices” for everyone in the education system “because we don’t know what experiences students are carrying. In some cases, we do, but often we don’t.”
As for the mask mandate, which Henry and Whiteside said would be announced later in the summer, Westphal said the STA would “at the very least” like to see masks still provided to staff and students, even if there’s no requirement.
“That should be respected and supported.”
– With files from Katya Slepian