President of the BC Teacher’s Federation (BCTF) Teri Mooring is interviewed outside the Victoria Convention Centre in Victoria, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. British Columbia’s Labour Relations Board says it will provide neutral third-party “troubleshooters” to help iron out challenges arising from COVID-19 and related protocols in schools. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

President of the BC Teacher’s Federation (BCTF) Teri Mooring is interviewed outside the Victoria Convention Centre in Victoria, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. British Columbia’s Labour Relations Board says it will provide neutral third-party “troubleshooters” to help iron out challenges arising from COVID-19 and related protocols in schools. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

B.C. labour board to provide neutral ‘troubleshooters’ for COVID-19 school plans

The BC Teachers’ Federation filed an application to the board in September asking for help

British Columbia’s Labour Relations Board says it will provide neutral third-party “troubleshooters” to help iron out challenges arising from COVID-19 protocols in public schools.

The BC Teachers’ Federation filed an application to the board in September asking for help with concerns about unsafe working conditions in schools when the government launched its restart plan.

The union said in an email to members Wednesday that the labour board’s recommendations closely reflect what it was seeking.

“All along, the K-12 restart plan was missing a mechanism to address failures in communication or required health and safety measures,” president Teri Mooring said in the email.

“This new expedited troubleshooting process from a neutral third party will help schools and local unions get changes in a much faster and efficient way.”

The Education Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The union filed the application one week after school started, citing concerns about “inconsistent and inadequate” health and safety precautions in schools.

Part of the issue, the union alleged, was that the provincial government wasn’t willing to spend enough money to ensure proper COVID-19 safety measures were being followed and was instead relying on individual school districts to enforce the guidelines.

In a response released Tuesday, labour board chair Jacquie de Aguayo said that after a review, she found that the issues involve education and health policies that fall beyond the scope of labour relations work.

“Despite this, and to their immense credit, the named parties in the application before me are committed to establishing a problem-solving framework for addressing challenges arising from the impacts of COVID-19 and reducing risks of transmission in the K-12 system,” de Aguayo wrote.

The labour board makes several recommendations including that the Education Ministry appoint a coordinator to communicate regularly and directly with school districts about COVID-19 protocols.

Before making any new changes, the board recommends the government share its reasons with a steering committee that includes teachers, parents, support staff, Indigenous rights holders and others.

The third-party troubleshooter should not replace existing processes for addressing challenges, but the unique context of the pandemic has created new challenges that may not fit easily into existing channels, the board said.

“The role of a troubleshooter is, using an informal and collaborative approach, to fact-find and to make non-binding recommendations,” de Aguayo said.

Troubleshooters will be available beginning Monday to address issues on an “expedited basis,” including evenings and weekends, she said.

The federation celebrated the decision in a tweet on Wednesday.

“This is the enforcement tool we needed to push school districts to comply with health and safety guidelines,” the tweet said.

The board said it will track the nature of disputes referred to troubleshooters and provide reports.

“This ruling is a significant achievement and was possible because of the advocacy, focus and perseverance of our members and our union,” Mooring said in the email to members.

“While it does not address our concerns around the need for a broader mask policy, reduced classroom density to facilitate physical distancing and other preventative measures, it will serve to support our efforts to enforce the health and safety guidelines that are in place.”

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusEducation

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons. File photo.
MP Morrison calls Keystone XL permit cancellation ‘devastating news’

Kootenay-Columbia MP reacts to the Conservative Party’s removal of a controversial Ontario MP

Interior Health reported 91 new COVID-19 cases in the region Jan. 20, 2021 and three additional deaths. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
95 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health, two deaths

Another member of Vernon’s Noric House has passed

The Greater Vernon Ringette Association is one of six Vernon sports groups benefitting from B.C.’s Local Sport Relief Fund. (Morning Star file photo)
Relief funds keep Okanagan in the game

Clubs at risk of closure due to inability to offer programs and fundraise

Golden Rotary Club president Isabelle Simard presents a check in Invermere to the winner of Golden’s bingo. (Michele LaPointe photo)
Golden Bingo continues to grow; expands to other BC communities

The money is going back into the community through various Rotary projects

Businesses continue to struggle under COVID-19 restrictions as the pandemic reaches the one-year mark. (B.C. government)
Another 564 COVID-19 cases, mass vaccine plan coming Friday

15 more deaths, community cluster declared in Williams Lake

A specialized RCMP team is investigating a suspicious trailer, which might have connections to the illicit drug trade, found abandoned outside a Cache Creek motel. (Photo credit: <em>Journal</em> files)
Police probe U-Haul trailer linked to illicit drugs left outside Cache Creek motel

Hazardous materials found inside believed to be consistent with the production of illicit drugs

Premier John Horgan leaves the podium following his first press conference of the year as he comments on various questions from the media in the Press Gallery at B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, January 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interprovincial travel restrictions a no-go, Horgan says after reviewing legal options

The B.C. NDP government sought legal advice as concerns of travel continue

Kevin Lee Barrett is charged with attempted murder and aggravated assault. (Facebook)
Court hears of victim’s injuries in West Kelowna attempted murder trial

Two-week-long trial continues for Kevin Barrett, accused of trying to kill mother in West Kelowna

Gem Lake Top, at Big White Ski Resort, seen at Jan. 8. (Big White Ski Resort)
Big White cancels $7.3M in lift tickets, accommodations due to COVID-19 orders

Since November, the ski resort has been forced to make several changes

Robert Riley Saunders. (File)
Disgraced Kelowna social worker faces another class-action lawsuit

Zackary Alphonse claims he was not informed of resources available to him upon leaving government care

A mother hold hands with her daughter while sharing about her struggles with addiction during Overdose Awareness Day. (Jesse Major/Black Press file)
Overdose and suicide support group starts in Penticton

Penticton was one of the province’s communities hardest hit by the overdose crisis in 2020

Gem Lake Top, at Big White Ski Resort, seen at Jan. 8. (Big White Ski Resort)
Big White cancels $7.3M in lift tickets, accommodations due to COVID-19 orders

Since November, the ski resort has been forced to make several changes

Voting is the number one, bare minimum way to have your voice heard by government. (File photo)
Jocelyn’s Jottings: Want to make change? Here are some suggestions

As a citizen you have a voice, you just have to know who to talk to

Most Read