COVID-19 FAQ

Duty to accommodate

Members with a medical condition may be entitled to an accommodation. Depending on the circumstances, the School District may be required to consider alternative working arrangements. Those arrangements will be tailored to the individual circumstances, and might include modified work schedules, changes to the working environment, the provision of additional PPE, or working from home arrangements.

The onus is on the member and the union to prove that the member has a medical condition that requires accommodation. That means that the member will need to get at least a written doctor’s note supporting their request.

If members need a medical accommodation, they should make an appointment with their physician immediately to discuss their circumstances.  Members should provide their doctor with as much information as possible about the specific job, and the plan for returning to work so that the doctor can give an informed opinion about whether the workplace is safe for them, and what accommodations might be needed.

Do not leave these issues until September! Members in this situation should schedule an appointment with their doctor right away. Contact your Local for assistance if needed.

Unless they are granted a leave of absence such as a medical leave, school district employees must attend work or risk the possibility of discipline. It is not up to individual members to decide whether or not they are comfortable returning to work. Anyone who has specific circumstances that pose problems for their return to work should raise those issues with their Local and the district well in advance of September.

Existing sick leave benefits and other terms in the collective agreements apply. This means that members should have access to sick leave if they are unable to work due to a health issue. It also means that they may be required to provide medical documentation to support their request for sick leave. However, we recognize that for many members, existing sick pay may not be enough. We have flagged this with government and will continue to push for improvements to sick leave benefits so that members can be sure that they will not be without pay if they cannot work because of COVID-19.

In some cases, members may be entitled to an accommodation. If a member has a documented medical issue, the employer is required to consider alterations to the workplace including adjusted schedules, additional PPE, working from home, or other modifications to the workplace so that the member can continue to work safely. These cases are all unique and will depend on the circumstances. That said, members will be required to provide medical documentation of their condition and restrictions.

In some cases, the employer may be required to accommodate you based on “family status” as described in the Human Rights Code. These cases are rare, and typically only arise where the employee is legally required to care for someone, such as a child. Family status accommodation typically does not apply where the vulnerable person is a parent or other adult family member. Whatever the case, you will need to get a recommendation from a doctor about what is safe and appropriate for you and your family member. If the doctor recommends that you not attend the workplace, you may need a leave of absence or to seek an accommodation. If this circumstance applies to you, you should speak to your union representative immediately to get assistance. You should also schedule an appointment with a doctor to discuss your circumstances and get advice.

Load More

 

Learning groups (cohorts)

A learning group (cohort) is an extra layer of protection that provides an opportunity for children to interact in school. This recommendation of the PHO increases the ability to better track if there is a COVID outbreak. Learning groups are limited to a maximum 60 students and staff in elementary and middle schools and 120 students and staff in high schools.

Support staff and teachers are included in the learning group numbers. They can leave the cohort as long as they are practising physical distancing.

No. Your household bubble is made up of the people closest to you that you can hug, and you don’t have to practice physical distancing with them. The learning group does not negate physical distancing. We know we can’t always maintain physical distancing at all times in schools and learning groups make sure that risk periods are small and only with a limited number of students.

Learning groups are recommended by the PHO as a way to reduce the number of interactions between students and staff, and to limit potential exposure.

UPDATED AUGUST 17, 2020

Parents and caregivers must assess their child daily and if a child has any symptoms, they must not take the bus to school.

Students should clean their hands before they leave home to take the bus, when they leave school prior to taking the bus, and when they get home.

Middle and secondary students are required to wear non-medical masks when they are on the bus. Non-medical masks are not recommended for elementary school students.

If space is available, students should each have their own seat (unless sharing with a member of their household) and sit separated side to side and front to back.

There may be slight variations to the above by individual school districts, but PHO recommendations must be followed by all districts.

(See pages 12 and 13 of the updated health and safety guidelines for K-12 settings.)

UPDATED AUGUST 17, 2020

Staff outside of a learning group must practice physical distancing when interacting with the learning group.

In situations where staff outside a learning group cannot practice physical distancing, other measures must be explored, such as reconfiguring rooms, securing an alternate space to allow for physical distancing, installing a physical barrier made of transparent material, or providing virtual services where possible.

When staff are interacting with people outside of their learning group—or are in a situation where physical distancing cannot be maintained and none of the strategies outlined above are viable options—staff are required to wear a non-medical mask, a face covering or a face shield (in which case a non-medical mask should be worn in addition to the face shield).

(See page 7 of the updated health and safety guidelines for K-12 settings.)

A learning group is a group of students and staff who remain together throughout the school quarter, semester or year and who primarily interact with each other.

Within a learning group, K-12 students and staff do not need to maintain physical distancing. All staff must still make efforts to minimize physical contact within learning groups.

Outside of their own learning group, middle and secondary students and all K-12 staff need to practice physical distancing of two metres, and other safety protocols like frequent hand washing and covering coughs. Most importantly, anyone who feels unwell must stay home.

Extracurricular activities will likely involve students interacting outside of their learning groups and appropriate physical distancing is required in those circumstances.

As stated in the BCCDC guidelines, outside of a learning group, all K-12 staff as well as middle and secondary students, need to practice physical distancing of two metres, and implement other safety protocols like frequent hand hygiene as identified by the PHO and BC Centre of Disease Control. Staff from outside of the learning group must practice physical distancing at all times in all interactions at work.

Learning groups and physical distancing are complementary strategies to reduce the spread of COVID-19. By organizing students and staff into learning groups, the number of different interactions and potential exposure is reduced, and contact tracing is better supported if there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 in a school community.

Within learning groups, minimizing physical contact is the rule. Those outside of a learning group must practice physical distancing when interacting with a learning group. If a two-metre distance can be maintained between people from different learning groups, two classes from different learning groups can be in the same space at the same time.

Staff outside of a learning group must practice physical distancing when interacting with the learning group. Where physical distancing is not possible, other measures must be explored, such as reconfiguring rooms, securing an alternate space to allow for physical distancing, installing a physical barrier made of transparent materials, or providing virtual services where possible.

(See pages 5, 6 and 7 of the updated “Provincial COVID-19 Health & Safety Guidelines for K-12 Settings.”)

Load More

Find more information here.

Health and safety

All districts must adhere to the same safety guidelines as set out by the Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. Implementation may vary slightly to district to district as they meet their individual needs.

Please bring your safety concerns to your site health and safety committee.

The PHO, in collaboration with health authorities, will oversee all outbreaks as they have been doing. Their response will vary depending on how the person contracted COVID-19. The public health team will do contact tracing and the PHO will give direction on what response is needed. This could range from isolation to quarantine depending on the situation. If the rate of community infection rises, the PHO will revise recommendations as needed.

Please bring your safety concerns to your site health and safety committee.

UPDATED AUGUST 17, 2020

Managing students with complex behaviours, medical complexities or those receiving delegated care may require staff providing health services or other health care providers to be in close proximity or in physical contact with a medically complex or immune suppressed student.

In community-based clinical settings where there is a low incidence and prevalence of COVID-19, additional personal protective equipment over and above that required for normal practices is not required. The same guidance is applicable to staff providing health services and other health care providers who are providing health services in schools. However, if a person providing health services assesses the need for personal protective equipment beyond routine practices following a point of care risk assessment, it should be worn.

Staff providing health care services and other health care providers are required to wear a mask when working in close proximity with students.

When staff are in close physical proximity with a student within their learning group, personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves, is not required beyond that used as part of the personal care routine normally encountered in their regular course of work (e.g. gloves for toileting).

Wearing a non-medical mask, a face covering, or a face shield (in which case a non-medical mask should be worn in addition to the face shield) in schools outside of the circumstances outlined above is a personal choice and will be respected.

(See pages 10 and 21 of the updated health and safety guidelines for K-12 settings.)

All districts are required to submit their safety plan to the Ministry by August 21. Districts are also required to consult with unions prior to developing their plan. The K-12 Presidents Council has recommended that locals meet with their district now to give input on the safety plan. Many locals have started these meetings and will continue to do so as they work towards the August 21 deadline.

Please bring your safety concerns to your site health and safety committee.

Normally, when a worker files a Work­Safe claim due to an occupational disease, the worker is required to prove that the disease was caused by the workplace. This places an onerous burden on the worker to prove causa­tion, which is often highly controver­sial. However, WorkSafe maintains a list of diseases and industries in which the disease is presumed to be caused by the workplace if the workers work in one of the associated industries. Usually this occurs where scientific evidence establishes that certain occupational diseases occur more commonly in that industry. For example, the list includes a presumption for mesothelioma in industries where there is exposure to airborne asbestos dust. In those cases, the worker does not need to prove that their illness was caused by the workplace in order to access compensation.

WorkSafe has added a presumption that covers any “communicable viral pathogen” that is subject to an order of the Provincial Health Officer, or the subject of a state of emergency. The applicable industries include those where the risk of exposure to the disease is significantly greater than that of the public at large during the times and in the places covered by the Provincial Health Officer’s notice, or the state of emergency. The change means that anyone who contracts one of these diseases—and who works in an industry that is at greater risk of exposure to the disease—does not need to prove that they contracted the disease at the workplace.

The change is not restricted to COVID-19 and would also apply to future epidemics that are the subject of orders from the Provincial Health Officer or subject to a state of emergency.

Normally, changes to the list of pre­sumptions requires 90 days before they come into effect. Bill 23 overrides that time frame and allows the change to come into effect immediately.

In most cases, yes. Workers who contract COVID-19 will be able to claim Workers Compensation as long as they work in an industry that is at greater risk of exposure than the public at large. WorkSafe has not provided any guidance on what types of workplaces will be covered by this description, however, so there remains some uncertainty. In all likelihood, any workplace that includes exposure to the public or larger numbers of people will be covered.

Districts must follow the cleaning guidelines of the BC Centre for Disease Control and the Provincial Health Officer/BC Ministry of Health. This document provides guidance for K-12 schools settings, and it is updated regularly by the government as changes are made. For current and updated information on cleaning and disinfecting for public settings check out this document.

WorkSafeBC has added K-12 Guide­lines to their website. Find these additional resources here.

Parents and others who are permitted to come into schools will be required to follow the safety protocols outlined in the district’s safety plan. These protocols must follow PHO guidelines for safety at all times. CUPE and the K-12 Presidents Council have been advocating that all members of the public, including parents and volun­teers, check in with the school office or call prior to arriving at the school, and that schools limit the number of outside visitors whenever possible.

Please bring your safety concerns to your site health and safety committee.

Please refer to question #18 on the bcschools.cupe.ca website which deals with the need for personal protective equipment beyond routine practices.

(See pages 20 and 21 of the updated “Provincial COVID-19 Health & Safety Guidelines for K-12 Settings.”)

Wearing non-medical masks at all times is not recommended in schools because there are multiple, more effective infection prevention and exposure control measures in place. These measures provide multiple layers of protection that reduce the risk of transmission. They include:

  • Ensuring students and staff stay home when they are sick or required to self-isolate, including ensuring everyone who enters the school does a daily health check
  • Enhanced cleaning and disinfection
  • Placing students and staff into consistent groupings of people (learning groups)
  • Adapting learning environments to maximize use of space
  • Ensuring physical distancing can be maintained between learning groups
  • Frequent hand hygiene

Members will need to review their district’s safety plans in terms of the use of masks as some may vary.

(See page 21 of the updated “Provincial COVID-19 Health & Safety Guidelines for K-12 Settings.”)

Visitor access during school hours should be prioritized to those supporting activities that benefit student learning and well-being. Schools should ensure that visitors are aware of health and safety protocols and requirements prior to entering the school. Schools should keep a list of the date, names and contact information for any visitors who enter the school.

(See page 15 of the updated “Provincial COVID-19 Health & Safety Guidelines for K-12 Settings.”)

As per WorkSafeBC guidelines, employers must involve frontline workers, joint health and safety committees, and supervisors in identifying protocols for their workplace. School districts and schools should ensure they have active Site Committees and Joint Health and Safety Committees that meet regularly,including prior to any transitions between stages, and are included in school district/school planning efforts.

(See page 22 of the updated “Provincial COVID-19 Health & Safety Guidelines for K-12 Settings.”)

CUPE recommends three levels of health and safety committees, sometimes known as Joint Health and Safety Committees (JHSC) or Joint Occupational Safety and Health Committees (JOSH).

District Health and Safety Committee

The central, or district committee, oversees health and safety for large employers, employers with multiple work sites, and employers with complex or systemic issues that have wide impact such as violence in the workplace, as well as issues that require a lot of resources or require major actions to resolve.

Joint Health and Safety Committee

The second type of committee is the joint health and safety committee, which is the only type of committee recognized by WorkSafeBC. This joint committee is required under The Workers Compensation Act and should be included in a local’s collective agreement along with the other two levels of committees. This joint committee meets monthly and is required to comply with The Workers Compensation Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, as well as the committee’s Terms of Reference.

Site Health and Safety Committee

The third type of committee, a site (or local) health and safety committee is important for large locals that have numerous job classifications, complex and varied health and safety issues, or are spread out geographically  with a variety of departments or locations. Site committees know their workplace and gather information that is provided to the Joint Health and Safety Committees when action is required.

Specific information about K-12 site committees will be covered in a future bulletin.

To support physical distancing requirements, schools should consider installing barriers made of transparent material in places where physical distance cannot be regularly maintained, and a person is interacting with numerous individuals outside of a learning group. This may include a front reception desk where visitors check in, a library check-out desk, or where food is distributed in a cafeteria.

(See page 9 of the updated “Provincial COVID-19 Health & Safety Guidelines for K-12 Settings.”)

At this time, there is no evidence that a building’s ventiliation system, in good operating condition, is contributing to the spread of the virus.

School districts are required to ensure that heating, ventiliation, and HVAC (air conditioning) systems are designed, operated, and maintained as per standards and specifications for ongoing comfort of workers. The WorkSafeBC website has an FAQ on ventilation.

(See page 21 of the updated “Provincial COVID-19 Health & Safety Guidelines for K-12 Settings.”)

Please bring your safety concerns to your site health and safety committee.

Schools will have non-medical masks and face shields available for staff.

(See page 10 of the updated “Provincial COVID-19 Health & Safety Guidelines for K-12 Settings.”)

Staff are required to wear a non-medical mask, a face covering or a face shield (in which case a non-medical mask should be worn in addition to the face shield) in high traffic areas such as buses and in common areas such as hallways, or anytime outside of their learning group whenever physical distancing cannot be maintained (e.g., itinerant teachers, specialists interacting with multiple learning groups). Staff can also wear a mask, a face covering or a face shield within their classroom or learning group if that is their personal preference.

Schools and school districts will have non-medical masks available for staff and students, including anyone who becomes ill while at school. Schools and school districts should consider distributing masks and face shields at the beginning of the school year on an opt-out basis, rather than at the request of students/staff.

Wearing a non-medical mask, face covering or face shield in schools outside of the circumstances outlined above is a personal choice for students and adults. It is important to treat people wearing masks with respect.

Those that choose to wear non-medical masks, face coverings or face shields must still seek to maintain physical distance from people outside of their learning group. There must be no crowding, gathering or congregating of people from different learning groups, even if non-medical masks are worn.

(See page 20 of the updated “Provincial COVID-19 Health & Safety Guidelines for K-12 Settings.”)

Schools will have non-medical masks and face shields available for staff.

(See page 10 “Provincial COVID-19 Health & Safety Guidelines for K-12 Settings.”)

Staff are required to wear a non-medical mask, a face covering or a face shield (in which case a non-medical mask should be worn in addition to the face shield) in high traffic areas such as buses and in common areas such as hallways, or anytime outside of their learning group whenever physical distancing cannot be maintained (e.g., itinerant teachers,
specialists interacting with multiple learning groups). Staff can also wear a mask, a face covering or a face shield within their classroom or learning group if that is their personal preference.

Schools and school districts will have non-medical masks available for staff and students, including anyone who becomes ill while at school. Schools and school districts should consider distributing masks and face shields at the beginning of the school year on an opt-out basis, rather than at the request of students/staff.

Wearing a non-medical mask, face covering or face shield in schools outside of the circumstances outlined above is a personal choice for students and adults. It is important to treat people wearing masks with respect.

Those that choose to wear non-medical masks, face coverings or face shields must still seek to maintain physical distance from people outside of their learning group. There must be no crowding, gathering or congregating of people from different learning groups, even if non-medical masks are worn.

(See page 20 “Provincial COVID-19 Health & Safety Guidelines for K-12 Settings.”)

Load More

Other

Districts are required to consult with unions in the district as part of the planning for stage two. Locals are encouraged to contact their districts to start these discussions now.

The Ministry of Education has allocated $45.6 million to schools to be used for various needs including hiring more staff, purchasing masks, and $3 million to support remote learning (including the purchase of devices and software).

UPDATED AUGUST 17, 2020

Provincial COVID-19 Health and Safety Guidelines for K-12 settings were updated on August 17, 2020. The updated guidelines require middle and secondary students to wear non-medical masks when they are on the bus. However, no student is required to wear a mask if they cannot tolerate it. Non-medical masks are not recommended for elementary school students.

Students in middle and secondary school are required to wear non-medical masks in high traffic areas such as buses and common areas such as hallways, or any time outside of their learning group whenever physical distancing cannot be maintained.

Staff are required to wear a non-medical mask, a face covering or a face shield (in which case a non-medical mask should be worn in addition to the face shield) in high traffic areas, common areas, and anytime they are outside of their learning group and cannot maintain physical distancing of two metres.

Staff can also wear a mask, a face covering or a face shield (combined with a non-medical mask) within their classroom or learning group if that is their personal preference. It is important to treat people wearing masks with respect.

(See pages 12 and 20 of the updated health and safety guidelines for K-12 settings.)

CUPE advocated for funding to hire additional staff and the government has allocated $23 million to immediately hire additional qualified custodians to fulfill the cleaning requirements in schools. BCCDC’s requirements include general cleaning and disinfecting of the premises at least once every 24-hours (includes items like an individual desk and locker that only a single student uses); cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces at least twice every 24 hours (e.g. door knobs, light switches, toilet handles, tables, desks and chairs used by multiple students, keyboards and toys); and cleaning every surface that is visibly dirty.

Yes. CUPE and the BCTF both sit on the steering committee and we support each other. We are all in this together.

Public schools will receive $42.5 million and private schools will receive $3.1 million through the grant.

Public School Safe Return to School Grant

($ millions)

Reusable Masks / Face Shields                  2.2

Computers and Assistive Technology       3.0

Cleaning Supplies                                          5.1

Improved Hand Hygiene                              9.2

Cleaning Frequency*                                     23.0

*This line item covers hiring additional staff for cleaning and disinfecting.

Staff and students can continue to bring personal items to school, but they should be encouraged to only bring necessary items, such as backpacks, water bottles, clothing and school supplies.

Staff and students should not share personal items, including electronic devices, pens, etc.

Personal items should be labelled with the student’s name to discourage accidental sharing.

(See page 11 of the updated “Provincial COVID-19 Health & Safety Guidelines for K-12 Settings.”)

Load More

 

You can find pdfs of the updated Provincial COVID-19 Health & Safety Guidelines for K-12 Settings and K-12 Education Restart Plan under the Resources tab.

WorkSafeBC has added K-12 Guidelines to their website found here.

The steering committee continues to meet and we will continue to advocate on behalf of members’ concerns.