Bulletin – Rapid Antigen Tests rolling out to K-12 sector this week

Over 200,000 self-administered COVID-19 rapid antigen tests are being sent out this week for immediate use in the K-12 sector. This initial allotment from the provincial government is specifically for use by school and district staff. They are being sent to districts early this week, with each district getting enough for two tests per staff member.

This first shipment of rapid tests will be for at-home use by symptomatic staff members to rule out COVID-19. They will not be used to determine if asymptomatic staff can attend school.

The Provincial Health Services Authority has another pending allotment of rapid tests. Once this allotment is confirmed, the Ministry of Education will roll out plans to expand rapid testing to students. It is expected more tests will arrive from the Government of Canada later in January that will support the expanded use of rapid tests within the sector.

Deployment and distribution to staff will be managed by the individual school districts. The tests will arrive prepackaged in boxes of five, so they will need to be repacked on by school districts into sets of two. This may cause a slight delay in getting them to staff.

Once ready, the Ministry of Education is recommending they be given out to staff to take home, so they are immediately available when needed. The tests will come to staff with a letter including guidance on when to use them, instructions on how to use the tests properly, and direction on what to do in the case of a positive or negative result.

These rapid antigen tests being provided are in addition to existing testing in the province, available for individuals when recommended by public health.

All other existing safety protocols and practices in schools should also be maintained.

Rapid testing resources

Understanding Test Results – Find out what your COVID-19 test results mean. BCCDC

Rapid antigen at-home test instructions for K-12 School District/Authority Staff. Ministry of Education

Symptoms of COVID-19. BCCDC

COVID-19 Rapid Antigen Test Deployment – Information for the K-12 Sector. Ministry of Education bulletin


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Bulletin – Presidents Council discuss back-to-school issues

The K-12 Presidents Council held a special meeting last week in advance of the full return of students to schools. Presidents compared how their respective districts were implementing updated safety plans to help curb COVID cases in schools in response to the recent surge causes by the Omicron variant. The Council provided feedback on enhanced measures being considered by the Public Health Officer and Ministry of Education and identified other possible measures that should be advocated for by CUPE.

The PHO and Ministry of Education have released updated protocols – they are available online and we provided a summary that is available on bcschools.cupe.ca.

CUPE continues to call for prioritized rapid testing for staff and students in schools, N-95 or equivalent three-layer masks be provided, prioritized vaccine boosters for school staff, support for improved ventilation, and adding regular daytime cleaning of all school environments across the province.

In support of K-12 Locals, CUPE BC President Karen Ranalleta has issued press releases over the past two weeks advocating for these measures, with emphasis on the importance of adding regular daytime custodial services in all B.C. schools. With the potential for increased absences due to illnesses that my lead to functional school closures, regular daytime cleaning is vital to stopping the spread of common illnesses (i.e., the flu and colds), and relieving pressures on staff caused by COVID related absence.

CUPE and the K-12 Presidents Council remains in close contact with the provincial government and districts through the Ministry of Education’s provincial education steering committee. We will continue to advocate for our members as they work to keep B.C. schools healthy and clean for students, families, and our communities.

Mask Exemptions

Well-fitted, and properly worn masks are vital to keeping our public education system open for in-person learning. A refresher for students and staff on proper usage will be provided by districts for the return to class this week.

There are, however, certain situations where a staff member or student may not be able to wear a mask and may be exempt from mandated mask use in school environments. This guide from the B.C. government can help identifying legitimate mask exemptions in the K-12 education system and provide guidance on how to deal with these situations that protect the rights and health concerns of individuals while protect public health in our schools.

Working remotely

For working remotely, CUPE has confirmed that it is up to school districts to determine whether employees can work from home. Locals who wish to advocate for this option should do so directly with their employer.

Recent CUPE BC press releases on K-12 Sector

CUPE BC welcomes one-week delay to in-classroom education in K-12, urges additional safety measures

School support workers call for daytime cleaning to keep schools open

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Bulletin – Guidelines released for January 10 return to school

With students returning to school next week, the Public Health Officer (PHO) and Ministry of Education have released updated protocols in response to the recent surge in COVID cases caused by the virus’ Omicron variant. The protocols are in place for the full return of students on January 10 with the goal of keeping schools open for in-person learning.


Three-layer masks will be provided to students and staff on return to school, and a refresher on the proper use of masks will be provided.

Students and staff will be asked to do a self-health check each day before attending school. Parents will be asked to report results of self-administered rapid antigen tests to help identify cases in schools.

The PHO says with higher levels of community transmission, a shorter virus incubation period of the Omicron variant, contact tracing and close contact notification by public health is a less effective way to limit COVID-19 transmission in schools. So, school districts are being directed to closely monitor staff and student attendance and absences due to illness to identify potential outbreaks or other problems that might lead to functional closures.

School districts will be responsible to make the decision if a functional school closure is required, in consultation with the regional medical officer.

The district will have plans in place to transition to online learning. CUPE has made clear through the Provincial Education Steering Committee that the union expects wage continuity for all school support staff in the event of functional closures.

School districts have taken the week delay in the return to school to put in place updated protocols. These plans include staggered breaks, restricting visitors, revised plans for distancing and reduce crowding, and the use of virtual assemblies and staff meetings. Policies and protocols allowing for school staff to work remotely are at the discretion of school districts.

The updated COVID-19 Protocols for School & District Administrators and Staff: Management of School-Associated Activity is available online and at bcschools.cupe.ca.

Rapid testing

The Public Health Officer says self-administered rapid antigen tests will be circulated to vital public services in the coming weeks, and school staff showing COVID symptoms will be a priority for these tests. More information will be provided when the tests are distributed.

Mental health resources

The recent surge in COVID cases has been incredibly stressful for many students and staff. Mental health resources are available to assist schools in supporting students and staff in their return to school:

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Bulletin – Delay in return to school for students

Due to the rapid surge in COVID-19 cases over the holiday break, return to school for most students will be delayed until at least January 10, 2022. This delay, ordered by the Public Health Officer today, will allow for enhanced safety measures to be planned and put in place to help contain the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 through the K-12 education system.

School staff will be returning to work as planned on January 3 & 4 to help prepare for the return of students and implementing the enhanced precautions. Some support staff will be needed to provide supports for students during the delayed full return to school. Wages will continue for all staff during this delayed return to classes. CUPE is advocating for wage continuity for all K-12 support staff in the case of any other school closures.

CUPE has been meeting regularly with the Ministry of Education and other K-12 system stakeholders over the holiday break and has offered several priority recommendations to protect school district staff, students, and communities. These recommendations include:

Rapid tests should be made widely available to staff, students, and their families at no cost.

K-12 staff should be prioritized for booster shots to ensure maximum possible immunity levels in the K-12 sector.

Respirator-style masks – ideally N95s – should be provided to staff and students. CUPE also supports increasing education efforts on the importance of wearing masks, and the proper use of well-fitted, high quality, Canadian manufactured respirator-style masks.

Daytime custodial services be utilized for twice daily cleaning of frequently touched surfaces, including at least once during school hours.

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.

CUPE believes these precautions are necessary to keep our schools clean and healthy. If implemented they will help keep all learning environments open and accessible, while offering the highest protections for students and staff.

K-12 support staff do vital work with students, many of whom have unique needs that require face-to-face interaction. Others work closely with vulnerable students that require special supports that can’t be provided online. Much of the work done by school support staff must be done in close contact. It is extremely important that we take all necessary safety measures to keep learning environments open and accessible for students, families, and communities.

The COVID-19 Omicron variant has made this already stressful pandemic even more challenging. This public health crisis continues to evolve at a very quick pace. CUPE and the K-12 President Council Executive remains in close contact with the Ministry of Education as the situation unfolds and return to schools are developed and implemented.

READ Press Release: CUPE BC welcomes one-week delay to in-classroom education in K-12, urges additional safety measures

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Bulletin – Important update on COVID asymptomatic self-isolation leaves in K-12 sector

Public health has recently removed the requirement to self-isolate after an exposure for those who have been fully vaccinated. As a result, BCPSEA has just advised the K-12 Presidents Council that the without prejudice and without precedent general paid leave previously available for asymptomatic staff members who are required to isolate due to a COVID-19 exposure will be ending as of December 31, 2021, subject to the following conditions:

The general paid leave is being discontinued for employees who can be vaccinated but have chosen not to receive the vaccination. After January 1, 2022, an unvaccinated asymptomatic employee who is required to isolate because they have been exposed to COVID-19 will be placed on an unpaid leave of absence.

An employee who has medical documentation from a practitioner substantiating a medical exemption from vaccination, as recognized by the Provincial Health Officer as being a contraindication to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, would still be eligible for the paid leave.

Employees who have not received the COVID-19 vaccine due to a reason other than a medical condition, that they believe would otherwise entitle them to an accommodation under the Human Rights Code of British Columbia, may be asked for additional information to substantiate that request to be eligible for the paid leave.

Please contact your National Representative if you have any further questions regarding this matter.

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