Nfld. & Labrador

Union files grievance as teachers return to work amid intensifying pandemic fears

NLTA president Dean Ingram says he is encouraging any union member to file a complaint if they feel their workspace does not adhere to health and safety regulations.

Teachers called back to work 1 week early

Teachers are back to class this week, ahead of their students, getting rooms organized and set up, like this one at Gander Collegiate. (Stephen Rowe/Twitter)

Thousands of teachers across Newfoundland and Labrador are returning to school on Wednesday, and grievances by the teachers union have already been filed ahead of the start of the school year for students. 

Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers' Association president Dean Ingram says the union has filed a grievance against the school district over how its back-to-school plan complies with provincial health and safety legislation.

"We have advised our members that should they feel their workplace violates Occupational Health and Safety regulations, they should exercise their right to file a complaint, and our staff are there to assist them with exactly that."

In July, the provincial government ordered teachers back to school a week early.

The president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers' Association, Dean Ingram, says smaller class sizes are crucial to a safe return to school. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

"The earlier reopening will provide teachers, principals and staff additional time to receive orientation on health and safety-related procedures and protocols for the operation of their schools and to prepare for the arrival of students," said a statement from then education minister Brian Warr.

Lots of details up in air 

With just one week to go before students flood back into schools, there are many details that are still to be announced. 

Education Minister Tom Osborne announced new measures Tuesday — including making masks mandatory for students in grades 7 to 12, and more busing seats — just two weeks after the full back-to-school plan was revealed. 

That plan has been fraught with criticism, starting with the release date. 

It wasn't released until Aug. 17, and then CBC News reported the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District had actually submitted a return-to-school report three months earlier. 

The revelation that the district's 47-page document — entitled Reimagining Teaching and Learning — had been submitted to the deputy minister of education on May 27 drew sharp rebuke from teachers and parents. 

"The [district] came up with a beautiful re-entry plan back in May. And then the government, which many teachers were not aware of, many of the public were not aware of … had kept it under wraps," Jillian Reid, a teacher, told The St. John's Morning Show earlier this week.

Jillian Reid is a Grade 1 teacher at Holy Redeemer Elementary in Spaniard's Bay, and an organizer of a rally on Tuesday demanding changes ahead of schools reopening. (Submitted by Jillian Reid)

But even more details are coming. Osborne said more specifics will be revealed at a news conference Thursday. 

Pressing on

Middway through the first day of the school for teachers, Osborne and Premier Andrew Furey praised educators at the start of the weekly live briefing on COVID-19.

"You are on the front line of essential work for your fellow Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and most importantly for our children and teenagers. Thank you," said Furey during his opening remarks.

Osborne echoed his sentiments.

"It's a very busy time across the education system.… Your work is important and appreciated," he said.

Meanwhile, teachers are spending some of their time setting up classrooms in a year that will undoubtedly be like no other. 

Stephen Rowe, who is the department head of social studies at Gander Collegiate, took to Twitter to highlight his preparations the beginning of the week. 

"Accomplished quite a bit today: started setting up Google Classrooms for my courses, arranged desks and personal workspace in my classroom," he wrote on Twitter, calling it a good start, with more work left to do. 

He included a picture in his public posting, noting he needs to fit five more desks in the room to reach 38. 

"Most of my classes are 30+.… It's hard to maintain space to walk into the room and up in front of the whiteboard. Today I added another row of desks in the front," he wrote in his post. 

About 70 people attended a rally at Confederation Building on Tuesday evening related to the return to school. While organizers and teachers acknowledged some changes have been made, they are demanding smaller class sizes and improved ventilation — two things they say are absolutely crucial to curbing the spread of COVID-19 this fall. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Heather Gillis

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