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.

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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.”)

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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.”)

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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.”)

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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.

Bulletin – Employer Proof of Vaccine Requests

While there are currently no public health orders (PHOs) that directly address mandatory immunization for education workers, some of our members may be indirectly impacted by the B.C. Government’s vaccine certificate program.

Where an employee’s job duties place them in locations or at events that require vaccination, employers may require vaccination status disclosures. Such policies would likely be found to be a reasonable exercise of management rights. Employers adopting such policies, however, are required to provide reasonable accommodations for employees who choose not to be vaccinated for medical or religious reasons.

Aside from protected human rights grounds, where employees are not vaccinated (or choose not to disclose their vaccination status) there may be employment consequences. These will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Some examples may include modified work duties, transfers, or unpaid administrative leaves. CUPE will continue to advocate for the protection of our members’ jobs and will address the employers’ actions on a case-by-case basis.

COVID-related Documents from Parents

Some support staff in the K-12 sector have recently been presented with documents from parents which claim to exempt their child from various COVID-19 public health measures. These documents are sometimes titled “Notice of Liability” or “Non-Consent Exemption”. They contain a dense collection of legal jargon related to compliance with mask mandates, testing protocols, and other public health measures.

CUPE members in the K-12 sector can safely disregard these notices. K-12 support staff are in no way personally liable for any of the alleged ‘harms’ described in these documents. CUPE members are not responsible for developing safety protocols or public health orders. Those matters are the responsibility of public health officials, the government, and the employer. Our members should continue to act in accordance with the direction from their employers and may forward the notices to the employer.

Online Learning Representative Sought

We are looking for a CUPE member who provides online learning as part of their job and is active in their local. Please contact your National Representative if you have a member you could recommend.

PEBT member-trustee opening

There is a vacancy for a Public Education Benefits Trust (PEBT) member-trustee. More information for anyone interested will be circulated soon.

Bargaining Committee Elections

A reminder to all locals to elect their bargaining committees for the upcoming round of negotiations, and to regional councils to elect their representatives to the provincial bargaining committee (Northern, Kootenays, Thompson-Okanagan, Fraser Valley, South Island, North Island, and Metro Vancouver).

Health & Safety Tool Kit

A workshop on the new health and safety toolkit developed by the K-12 violence prevention working group will take place on September 23, 2021, 3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. This workshop, hosted by the K-12 Presidents Council, is recommended for K-12 presidents, unit chairs, health and safety committee reps and CUPE staff. A reminder with registration info will be sent separately.

Notice of Next Meeting

The K-12 Presidents Council will hold its next meeting on October 13th, 2021, from 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. The zoom link and agenda will be sent in a separate notice. Those regions that have not yet elected their provincial bargaining committee representatives will hold their regional elections at this meeting.

View PDF.

Bulletin – K-12 Communicable Disease Guidelines for new school year

The B.C. government has released an up-to-date Public Health Communicable Disease Guidance for K-12 Schools and the Provincial Communicable Disease Guidelines for K-12 Settings in preparation for the start of the 2021/2022 school year. The guidance replaces previous COVID-19 guidelines and take effect August 24, 2021.

Highlights of the guidance include:

  • Vaccines are highly recommended for all staff and eligible students. At this time, proof of vaccination requirements for non-essential public places announced by the province will not apply to K-12 schools, or before and after school programs.
  • Mandatory masks indoors and on buses for students in grades’ 4 and up, and for in-school staff provincewide. Masks for students in grades’ 3 and below are recommended. BC WorkSafe guidelines and provincial health orders will apply in administrative offices and other staff-only environments.
  • Daily cleaning of frequent touch surfaces or when visibly dirty, and daily cleaning of low touch surfaces. General cleaning in line with regular practices.
  • Ministry of Education and BCCDC are advising regional approaches – local medical health officers can put local orders in place based on factors such as increased community transmission and/or low vaccination rates.
  • All school HVAC systems will continue to be regularly inspected and, moving forward, provincial funding will continue to be made available to upgrade or replace HVAC systems through routine capital programs. Through the work of CUPE members, school districts will continue to ensure all HVAC systems are operated and maintained so they continue to work properly.

There will be a transition from Districts being required to have a COVID-19 Safety Plan to having a Communicable Disease Prevention Plan. It should be reviewed regularly by Site Committees and Joint Health and Safety Committees.

Daytime Custodial Services

While the commitment to daily cleaning is encouraging, CUPE will continue to advocate for permanent daytime custodial services to be provided in all school districts across the province. This is a critical priority for K-12 Presidents Council, and we have heard widespread support from other stakeholders in the education system. We will continue to work with the province and all stakeholders to build on the extremely extremely positive results daytime custodial services have had for the health of students, families, workers, and communities.

Vaccinations

CUPE strongly recommends vaccinations to all members, as they are crucial to limiting the spread of COVID-19. The benefits of vaccinations clearly outweigh any risks, and we ask that you discuss any questions you have with your medical practitioners.

Reminder: All CUPE members working in the K-12 education system are asked to contact their Local immediately if they are asked by their employer about vaccination status, or if they ask for any other information regarding immunization.

Additional resources from CUPE’s Health & Safety Branch on COVID-19 vaccines:

Frequently Asked Questions

Workers’ Rights

Read more from the Ministry of Education on the updated guidance. The complete guidance is online at Public Health Communicable Disease Guidance for K-12 Schools along with the updated, Provincial Communicable Disease Guidelines for K-12 Settings and the K-12 Education Recovery Plan.

View PDF.

Clean and healthy schools priority for CUPE education workers this fall

BURNABY—The union representing over 30,000 education workers in BC public schools is calling on the provincial government to focus on providing clean and healthy environments for students and staff for the new school year. The Canadian Union of Public Employees is calling for daytime custodial services to be provided in all school districts along with mandatory masks for staff and students.

“The return of daytime custodians to BC schools during the pandemic had extremely positive results for the health of students, families, workers and communities. The services they provide are a major part of our success in preventing the spread of COVID-19 in our schools and into our communities,” says Karen Ranalletta, president of CUPE BC. “Daytime custodial services are vital to stopping the spread of diseases in schools and help reduce the amount of time staff and students miss due to illness. Our schools need these services, and they should be made permanent across the BC K-12 education system.”

In addition to daytime custodial services, CUPE is also calling for:

  • Adequate isolation protocols for students that are ill or showing symptoms, and for 2020/2021 Provincial COVID-19 Health and Safety guidelines to be maintained into the new school year.
  • The province and school districts work to ensure school ventilation systems are working properly for the start of the school year, and system improvements are a priority in long-term infrastructure planning.
  • Mandatory masks in all school environments, including classrooms and buses, for staff and students.

“With the number of COVID cases still rising, and with no approved vaccine for kids under 12 years of age, a strong mask mandate across the province’s K-12 education system is a necessary precaution,” says Ranalletta. “Masks in schools, along with daytime custodial services, will ensure students have clean and healthy school environments to return to this fall, and will let families see their kids off to school with confidence they will be as safe as possible.”

CUPE is bringing these priorities directly to the BC government at the provincial K-12 Education Steering Committee. Established by the province at the start of the pandemic, CUPE representatives have been participating in the Committee advocating for CUPE members, and the students and communities they serve.

CUPE represents over 30,000 education workers across BC, including education assistants, school secretaries, custodians/caretakers, Indigenous support workers, IT workers, Strong Start facilitators, trades and maintenance workers, and bus drivers.

Bulletin – CUPE priorities for the return to school

With back-to-school on the horizon, the K-12 Presidents Council held a special meeting this week to discuss issues facing CUPE members as they prepare for the 2021/2022 school year. The Council discussed best practices for maintaining clean and healthy schools for both staff and students during the on-going pandemic.

The Council reaffirmed its call for making daytime custodial services permanent throughout the K-12 education system. Daytime custodians help reduce the spread of all diseases in our schools and their work reduces the amount of time staff and students miss due to illness. The extremely positive health benefits that students, workers, and communities have seen during the pandemic in reducing the spread of illnesses must be made permanent.

The Council supports calls for mandatory masks in schools and on busses for students and staff for the coming school year. With rising numbers of COVID cases, and with no approved vaccine for kids under 12 years of age, a mask mandate across the province’s K-12 education system is a necessary precaution.

The Council confirmed the need to maintain adequate isolation protocols for students that are ill or showing symptoms of illness. CUPE wants to ensure all school districts have clear and proper procedures in place to protect students and staff, and that these practices are followed.

The Council is also calling for the province to work with school districts to ensure school ventilation systems are working properly, viable upgrades are in place for the start of the school year, and that improvements to school ventilation are a priority in long-term infrastructure planning.

CUPE is speaking out on these issues directly with the BC government at the provincial K-12 Education Steering Committee. Established by the province at the start pandemic, with representatives from all stakeholder groups, your CUPE representatives are at those Steering Committee meetings advocating for our members.

As the province’s immunization efforts continue, CUPE strongly recommends vaccination in consultation with your own medical providers or practitioners.

CUPE’s Health and Safety Branch has resources available for your frequently asked questions about vaccinations, and the implications on workers’ rights of immunization requirements. Additional resources for K-12 locals will be coming in an upcoming bulletin.

If you are asked by your employer about whether you’ve been vaccinated, or if they ask for any other information regarding immunization, please contact your local.

View PDF.

Bulletin – Wrapping up the school year

Employer questions on vaccination

While the provincial immunization plan moves forward throughout the summer, we are asking all K-12 members to contact your CUPE local if your employer asks about your immunization status. If you are asked by your employer about whether you’ve been vaccinated, or if they ask for any other information regarding immunization, please contact your local who will contact your National Servicing Representative as soon as possible.

Daytime Custodial Services 

This past week CUPE welcomed the BC government’s announcement of $14.4 million in funding to support cleaning and supplies for the 2021/22 school year. While this is a step forward in helping make daytime custodial services a permanent part of the BC education system, more support is needed to continue this vital health and safety measure.

CUPE will be working over the summer to raise the profile of these vital services, the workers that provide them, and the many benefits they provide to our communities. In early August, CUPE will be holding a communications training webinar for local presidents and unit chairs to help them in sharing these messages with communities and the news media. More information on this webinar will be coming in future updates.

Health & Safety Toolkit on Violence in the Workplace

Looking ahead to the fall, CUPE and BCPSEA will be hosting a meeting in September to unveil the new K-12 Health and Safety Toolkit. Panelists Tom McKenna, CUPE Occupational Health & Safety specialist, and Hans Loeffelholz, BCPSEA sector lead for OH&S, will provide an overview of the new toolkit and answer any questions on its use in the workplace. Save the date for the meeting on September 23, 2021. – CLICK here for registration information.

ARC Summit

In May, the ARC Foundation ran the first ever Regional SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) Summits. A summit report has been released highlighting discussions of SOGI inclusive educators, 2SLGBTQ+ students, and allies, who shared their challenges and experiences.– CLICK here for the Summit Summary Report.

National Day of Truth and Reconciliation

We recognize awareness is a journey that we all must take to honour and fulfill the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Calls to Action. Please take the time to discuss the Calls to Action and the truths contained in the TRC report. The complete TRC report is available online from the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

CUPE’s Walking the talk: A practical guide to reconciliation for CUPE locals is also available online with more helpful information. Please share these important resources with your membership so we can all do our part in reconciliation and to support Indigenous communities on their path to healing through these difficult times.

This week, a new federal statutory holiday was established recognizing September 30th as National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, in honour of residential school survivors. As it is a federal statutory holiday, it only applies to federally regulated sectors (such as airlines).

Some CUPE collective agreements, however, do have provisions recognizing new statutory holidays, whether they are municipal, provincial, or federal. And there may be other ramifications in collective agreements. CUPE is encouraging all locals to review their collective agreement language on statutory holidays.

THANK YOU on behalf of the Presidents Council Exec. and your K-12 Co-ordinators

We’d like to thank you all for your outstanding work and dedication throughout the pandemic – in your workplaces, in our communities and in our union. Your tireless efforts, support and solidarity throughout a challenging school year are to be commended.

We will remain vigilant over the summer months to ensure our workplaces remain healthy and safe and wish you all a safe summer.

Click here for Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside’s message thanking school staff

Follow us on @cupek12bc on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and visit bcschools.cupe.ca for news and resources.

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