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Teachers and school employees’ sacrifices in the battle against COVID-19 ignored: school trustees

Recognition deserved and any vaccine rollout should include them early on, trustees say

Teachers and school staff are “working with distinction” under trying circumstances on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic and deserve recognition for that, SD72 trustees say.

And in that light, the SD72 Board of School Trustees is writing a letter telling the provincial government that school employees, along with health-care workers, should be among the first to get any COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available.

“They have become our frontline workers,” Trustee Daryl Hagen said at the SD72 board’s Nov. 10 meeting. “They are critical for our society to keep functioning, for children to be safe, for children to learn, for families to co-exist, for businesses to thrive…And it’s our teachers and our CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) members and I’m going to miss somebody if I list them all…”

With the meeting being held on the eve of Remembrance Day, Hagen drew parallels between the homefront of the war years and the uncertainty and stress of the current pandemic.

“People made huge sacrifices with their businesses, with their farms, with their families to fight a battle and we have a battle before us right now,” Hagen said. “It is massive. It’s worldwide and everyone needs to do their part but I’d like everyone in this area, in Campbell River, to recognize the job that teachers are doing as frontline workers, as CUPE members clean the schools, as our bus drivers drive the buses around and as our principals and vice-principals hang onto the steering wheel and try to steer it.

“And let’s not forget all the changes from the upper management, you know, trying to create an environment that’s safe and so far we’ve been lucky but luck doesn’t come on its own. This is hard work and people are tired and I would like to recognize that.”

Hagen said he has visited schools and noted the work being done by school district employees and wanted the board to produce a letter or do something to recognize the work its employees are doing.

“Bring them a bowl of soup and put it on their doorway, I don’t know what to say but we need to do something and as a board I would like to see us put a letter forward and say you are working with distinction,” Hagen said, “that we have nothing but admiration for the workers in this district.”

Trustee Joyce McMann said it’s gone largely unnoticed by the media and by the public the kind of commitment that it has taken to keep our schools running safely and to move forward with public education.

“I think we need to get those pots and pans banging as superintendent (Jeremy) Morrow suggested,” McMann said. “It’s time. It’s time to recognize our staff throughout the district who have made our goals and aspirations possible through this time.”

Later in the meeting, Trustee Richard Franklin led a discussion on a potential COVID-19 vaccine from the U.S. company Pfizer. He put forward a motion that a letter be written by the district encouraging the provincial government to place a high priority in providing a COVID-19 vaccine, when it is available, to school employees, alongside health-care professionals, given how many people teachers, support staff and other school employees come into close contact with daily.

Franklin cited, as an example, a music teacher he knows in another school district who comes into contact with 400 students and to bring the topic around to Trustee Hagen’s earlier points, that teacher talked about “how stressed, how exhausted he was to bring home COVID-19 to his family, to his grandchildren and that sort of thing.”

“There’s not very many positions in our society where you have an adult in a room with upward of 30 students with no masks on but that is what faces our teachers and educational assistants every day,” Franklin said.

When Franklin reads articles about the rollout of a vaccine, he doesn’t see teachers mentioned. SD72 and school districts around the province have done a “very good job” of mitigating the risks of COVID-19 but the risks haven’t been eliminated. Like nurses and doctors, teachers and school employees are placing themselves in a position of risk and they need the board’s support. To that end, Franklin put forward the motion to have the government place a high priority on providing a COVID-19 vaccine to school district employees. Franklin’s motion passed.

RELATED: Second COVID-19 case at Nanaimo high school makes a ‘cluster’

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