Burnaby – With students returning to B.C. classrooms, the union representing over 30,000 school support workers is calling for additional measures to reduce absences due to COVID-19 and other illnesses, in particular adding daytime cleaning. In the face of the Omicron variant and the Public Health Officer advising school districts to prepare for functional closures, CUPE BC President Karen Ranalletta says steps like bolstering daytime custodial service can minimize disruptions to in-person learning.
“I join CUPE’s school support members in welcoming students back to our schools. The work our members do is vital to protecting these clean and healthy spaces for our students,” says Ranalletta. “Very few schools in B.C.’s K-12 system have daytime custodians. Regular daytime cleaning could greatly reduce other illness and alleviate pressures on our school system already dealing with the surge in COVID cases. But these vital services are missing from the vast majority of schools.”
In addition to adding regular daytime cleaning of all school environments to reduce school staff absences due to other common illnesses (i.e., flu and colds), CUPE recommends emphasizing other measures that can reduce staff absences and mitigate the chances of functional closures. They include:
– Rapid tests should be made widely available to staff, students, and their families at no cost.
– N95 or equivalent three-layer, well-fitted, Canadian manufactured masks provided to all students and staff.
– Prioritize school staff for vaccine boosters and make them available on-site in school district facilities. This will help ensure maximum protection as quickly as possible.
– Support for improved ventilation in school district buildings. In situations where mechanical HVAC or open windows are not feasible (particularly in winter), portable HEPA filters in classrooms and other school spaces to ensure maximum air filtration.
“At a time when the Public Health Officer is telling employers to prepare for a third of their workforce to be absent due to COVID-19, steps to reduce functional closures of schools will help already overstressed families and communities,” says Ranalletta. “By taking step to not only slow the spread of the Omicron variant, but other common illnesses too, we can reduce staff absences and keep our schools open for students and their families.”
CUPE represents over 30,000 school support workers across the province, including education assistants, school secretaries, school library workers, custodians/caretakers, Indigenous support workers, IT workers, Strong Start facilitators, trades and maintenance workers, and bus drivers.