Today’s Professional Issues Advisory Committee (PIAC) Meeting: Recommendations for a COVID-19 issues session and professional guidelines for schools during the pandemic.

Today the Professional Issues Advisory Committee (PIAC), which provides advice to the Executive Committee of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF), met to discuss its priorities, plan for the summer conference, and to consider urgent advice to the Executive Committee on matters related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As an advisory committee, PIAC does not have the power to act on its own. Its role is simply to make recommendations, based on our expertise as teachers in a range of roles within the public education system, that will be brought to the executive body of the teachers’ union. The BCTF Executive Committee can adopt, modify, or dismiss any of the advice brought to it, given its executive role in the union that represents over 43,000 teachers in B.C.

PIAC has an important role in this pandemic, given that the government’s response to COVID-19 affects professional matters like report cards, graduation requirements, the provision of quality education for all students, delivery of curriculum, teachers’ professional autonomy, the role of teachers in protecting students’ safety while at school, and the profession’s commitment to confront systemic racism, advance racial justice and reconciliation, and strengthen programs for equity-seeking students.

PIAC’s Recommendations: Conduct a COVID-19 Issues Session and Develop Professional Guidelines for Schools During Public Emergencies

PIAC passed two recommendations today that reflect the urgency of raising teachers’ voices at this stage of the COVID-19 crisis. These recommendations are in support of recent action by the Executive Committee related to the governments’s COVID-19 plans for public schools.

The BCTF recently called for the formation of a government Planning Committee for the reopening of schools and the 2020-21 school year. This proposed committee would reflect diverse perspectives within the teaching profession, involve education stakeholders, and address issues of teacher workload, quality and accessibility of instructional platforms, assessment and reporting of student progress, and the provision of in-service for teachers. The BCTF is also committed to strengthening teachers’ professional autonomy through the proposed government Planning Committee.

To help support the BCTF proposal for a Planning Committee, PIAC adopted two recommendations today.

One recommendation calls for an Issues Session on Public Education, Safety, Professionalism, and COVID-19. This session would bring together teachers from a range of perspectives to help develop strategies and policy recommendations in preparation for the government Planning Committee. PIAC recommended that the issues session help BCTF committee representatives prepare for their roles by listening to a wide range of other teachers on how to adapt schools to COVID-19 while providing individual students with accommodations.

The second recommendation calls for the development of Professional Guidelines for Schools to Support Teaching and Learning During COVID-19 (and future states of emergency). These guidelines would be based on the expertise of the teaching profession itself, with the aim of defending the integrity of public education during COVID-19 and addressing inequities that could be worsened by the pandemic.

The development of guidelines, through the process recommended by PAIC today, would also help ensure that government responses to COVID-19 address systemic racism and advance racial justice and reconciliation in public education. This should be a priority of the BCTF, especially since COVID-19 more adversely affects communities of colour and First Nations.

The recommendation to develop professional guidelines would raise the voice of the teaching profession and help the public understand what’s at stake for schools and students in the various plans and policies of the government. PIAC recommended that the guidelines be based on the union’s leadership priorities for 2020-21, including to defend the integrity of public education during COVID-19 by engaging members and supporting local teachers’ unions throughout B.C.

If approved and developed by the BCTF as a whole, the guidelines would strengthen teachers’ professional autonomy (another priority of the union adopted at this year’s AGM), apply existing BCTF policies, ethics, and priorities on professionalism to COVID-19 issues, protect the health and well-being of students at school during COVID-19, safeguard and enhance programs that support equity-seeking students, including by protecting the rights of students who are marginalized and/or disabled, ensure that government responses to COVID-19 address systemic racism and advance racial justice and reconciliation, and base educational policy and practice on the knowledge, expertise, and ethics of the teaching profession.

These Recommendations Will Hopefully be Considered on an Urgent Basis Soon

Hopefully the Executive Committee will find the time in the remaining week of the current school year (before the summer break) to consider these urgent recommendations. Given the gravity of the situation presented by COVID-19, these recommendations should be considered as soon as possible.

With September just around the corner, engaging members on professional issues, preparing for advocacy with government for the safe reopening of schools, and establishing teacher-developed guidelines for schools will help strengthen public education’s response to the pandemic. Undoubtedly, some of the planning work by the profession itself will need to occur during the summer. In any emergency, proper planning matters more than ever.

Today PIAC recommended concrete measures that the BCTF can take now to address the challenges our profession faces. These measures reflect the reality that COVID-19 issues connect to the other urgent matters of the day, including confronting systemic racism and advancing racial justice and reconciliation in public education.

More information:

Twitter: @tomkertes

About Tom Kertes

Tom is a founding organizer of the Critical Education Project.

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