Prince Rupert teacher wants BCTF to push employer to supply face shields and N95 respirators

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      Middle-school teacher Tom Kertes believes there are several things that his union can do to help keep him and his colleagues safe.

      In an open letter on his website, the Prince Rupert educator cited three things that he needs from the B.C. Teachers' Federation:

      * educate all members on their rights at work during the COVID-19 pandemic;

      * insist that the employer provide teachers with personal protection equipment, including face shields and N95 respirators, as well as training to use it;

      * and set standards and recommendations for the government "that defend the integrity of public education and protect students' health and well-being".

      N95 respirators fit snugly on the face and efficiently filter airborne particles.

      Surgical masks are disposable, loose-fitting face coverings that don't form a seal around the nose and mouth.

      N95 respirators offer a higher level of protection than surgical masks in protecting people from COVID-19.

      "Decision makers should know and understand that teachers work in close proximity to large groups of the public (children, youth, young adults, and adults) for extended periods of time in enclosed spaces (often with poor or no ventilation)," Kertes wrote.

      He's a founding organizer of the Critical Education Project, which advocates measures to defend public education in B.C.

      The letter points out that teachers have the right to refuse unsafe work. Kertes wants the union to educate members on how to exercise that right. 

      In addition, Kertes would like the union to educate members about their right to be accommodated by the employer for health and safety reasons.

      "As professionals, teachers have the right and the duty to practice professional autonomy—which means that we must ask in the educational interests of our students as professionals (this includes protecting student health and well-being)," Kertes wrote.

      You can read Kertes's open letter here.

      Last month, BCTF president Teri Mooring wrote a Twitter thread with 14 messages to educate members about the union's efforts.

      She acknowledged that the BCTF still has concerns around the availability of PPE. Apart from that Mooring expressed a great deal of confidence in the government's overall plan.

      Last week, the provincial public health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, created a YouTube video to offer assurance to educators in advance of public schools reopening on June 1.

      Video: Watch Dr. Bonnie Henry's message to educators and school support staff in advance of public schools reopening on June 1.

      As part of B.C.'s plan, children from kindergarten to Grade 5 can receive direct instruction for up to 50 percent of the school week. Those from Grade 6 to 12 can receive direct instruction for one day a week.

      These classes are open on a voluntary basis, which means students are not required to attend.