British Columbia

Dr. Bonnie Henry says controversial ad wasn't supposed to represent classroom conditions

An ad by the B.C. government shows Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry standing in front of six physically distanced students in a classroom as she discusses some of the changes for the upcoming year. Some teachers say the video is misleading.

Ad shows provincial health officer standing in front of a few physically distanced students in classroom

B.C.'s new ad features Dr. Bonnie Henry as she instructs a small class of students on what schooling will look like in the province. (BCGovNews/Twitter)

A B.C. government ad showing Dr. Bonnie Henry standing in front of six physically distanced students in a classroom wasn't meant to be a representation of what schools will look like in September, the provincial health officer said Monday.

The TV spot from the Ministry of Education has attracted harsh criticism from some teachers, who say it presents an unrealistic view of the measures taken to prevent COVID-19.

But Henry said what the video showed was a conversation she was having with students and their parents about what changes they could expect in the classroom this year, as well as their anxieties about returning to class.

"There were more than six children. We had it in a classroom because that's what the children wanted," she told reporters when asked about the ad on Monday.

"That was not a commercial about what a classroom is going to look like."

Henry said she and all the students had masks with them, and everyone made their own decision about whether to wear one.

When Burnaby teacher Jennifer Heighton saw the video she couldn't help but see what she believed were double standards. 

"They are misleading the public," said Heighton, who has been a teacher for more than 20 years.

She says the ad is riddled with inconsistencies.

Beginning in September, she expects to be teaching around 27 students in her classroom, a far cry from the half dozen featured in the ad.

The video also shows a sink in the classroom for hand washing and individual desks for each student. But the reality, Heighton says, is the presence of sinks and separate desks vary by district, school, and even classroom.

"Why is the government spending money on expensive TV ads, when they should be spending that money to reduce class sizes so we can spread the desks apart just like the ad is showing?" asked Heighton.

Teri Mooring, president of the B.C. Teachers' Federation, says she understands why teachers are angered by the ad. 

"That's not the reality that a lot of teachers and families are going to be entering into ... in the coming weeks," said Mooring, noting there are classrooms in B.C. public schools without windows, windows that open, sinks, or running water.

British Columbia Teachers' Federation president Teri Mooring says the ad shows what teachers have been pushing for: smaller class sizes. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

Mooring said it's frustrating to see an ad with a reduced class size when it's the exact thing many teachers have been fighting for in the province's back-to-school plan.

Along with smaller classes, Mooring says the BCTF wants the Ministry of Education to implement a remote learning component so children can continue with their studies from home while reserving a spot at their school.

She believes both of these requests are achievable given that B.C. is set to receive up to $242 million in federal funding to safely open schools.

Many critics have also been sharing their frustrations with the ad online.

"I don't believe it is a realistic depiction and I don't believe that was the intent, necessarily," said Darren Danyluk, president of the B.C. Principals' and Vice-Principals' Association, on The Early Edition Monday.

Danyluk said when filming the ad, there were physical distancing requirements for the actors, which is why there are fewer children in the ad than there will be in B.C. classrooms this school year.

He said students, unlike the child actors, will be contained in learning cohorts in a controlled environment with safety measures in place, making it less problematic for more bodies to be in the classroom than in the commercial.

The Ministry of Education said in a statement the ads are intended to show that the ministry is working closely with public health officials, including the provincial health officer, for a safe return to school.

"Each school will operate under strict health and safety measures with well-stocked supplies to support regular hand washing hygiene and frequent cleaning of classrooms and high-touch surfaces, along with daily monitoring of personal health before the school day begins, and providing non-medical masks for students and staff."

With files from The Early Edition

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