Special address from Dr. Bonnie Henry to B.C. Educators and Support Staff

VICTORIA—Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks to educators and support staff about physical distancing in schools in a video released yesterday.

The PHO recognizes that schools will require flexibility when it comes to providing school care and learning opportunities. This means that there can be more than 50 students and staff in a school at any given time if they are not all in one area at the same time and are actively engaged in physical distancing to the extent possible. Understandably, physical distancing is challenging in a K-12 educational setting, particularly with younger children. At the same time, it is important that we do what we can to try to assist children and staff understand the importance of minimizing the frequency of physical contact with one another.

The following ideas on physical distancing in schools are provided by the BC Centre for Disease Control:

  • Avoiding close greetings like hugs or handshakes and remind children to keep their hands to themselves when possible.
  • Help younger children learn about physical distancing by creating games. For example, put on some music and have children spread their arms side to side and spin around slowly trying not to touch their friends. Older children can be provided age appropriate reading material and encouraged to self-regulate.
  • Take children outside more often, perhaps breaking children into smaller groups to maintain a degree of distance.
  • Organize learning activities outside including snack time, play based learning, and play time.
  • Integrate cross-curricular learning activities in outdoor settings into your lesson plans and encourage younger children in play outside.
  • Regularly clean and sanitize items that are designed to be shared such as manipulatives and digital devices.
  • Set up mini environments within the school to reduce number of children in a group, i.e., set up 2 or 3 learning areas for numeracy and literacy activities.
  • Consider different classroom configurations to maintain distance between children (e.g. separating desks) or different locations in the school (e.g. different classrooms, gym or library, outside).
  • Increase the space between children and staff during activities such as snack/lunch, i.e., move or separate tables, move chairs farther apart.
  • When children want to use the same activity or redirect some children to another area.
  • Set up distinct areas for children who may have symptoms of illness until they can be picked up and ensure these areas are sanitized regularly.
  • Consider staggering snack and lunch time so you can accommodate smaller groups with more space. Discourage any food or drink sharing.
  • Consider using educational videos and online programs as a part of learning so children can sit independently and distanced from each other.

K-12: supporting the community during a pandemic

BURNABY—K-12 support staff might not be considered front-line workers during the COVID-19 crisis, but in Burnaby they’re certainly doing their part to hold up the front line.

“I’m proud of what our members are doing,” said CUPE 379 President Paul Simpson. “Members have been volunteering to provide much needed support to the community.”

Simpson said that EAs are providing educational and emotional support to both students and parents. They have been proactive in connecting with parents and students to make sure they have what they need to continue learning. EAs have been supporting children of Tier One and Tier Two essential workers, and the district is now in the process of bringing in vulnerable students.

“Clerical are still in Burnaby schools, holding it all together and making sure that everything can be tracked so that we know who comes into schools and where they are,” said Simpson.

CUPE 379 members have been delivering supplies to students and, in some cases, providing supplies of their own where necessary. Those who work in IT have been providing support to more people than usual, answering questions for both staff and parents. Trades are looking at bigger projects that they can start before summer. Noon-hour supervisors and crossing guards are helping with grounds and exterior maintenance, as well as posting signs.

“Custodians are making sure that schools are disinfected and safe for the people who need to come in,” said Simpson, calling these workers the cornerstone of the system.

Burnaby School District is providing 600 meals a day, which CUPE 379 members are packaging and delivering in the community as needed.

Simpson, acknowledging that these are frightening and challenging times for everyone, said that having a respectful relationship and working together with the District goes a long way.

“The bottom line is that CUPE 379 members are showing up to support their community,” he said. “We knew we could provide the services that are needed in these times.”

K-12 Bulletin #5

We were pleased to have a phone briefing with Dr. Trevor Corneil, a member of Dr. Bonnie Henry’s team.

In her Monday briefing, B.C.’s provincial health officer said that the province is now working on how and when classrooms might be able to reopen with the proper protections for teachers, staff and students. Protections include physical distancing measures, provisions for frequent hand washing, and regular cleaning of classrooms and other school spaces.

The priority will be providing classroom space for children of essential workers. 

Dr. Henry said that they were not thinking about school over the summer, but want to make sure that they have plans that address all of their issues for the fall.

The return to school could be part of a “hybrid” model that mixes in-person instruction with distance learning.

Dr. Henry expects some children will be back in class before the end of the school year, but how that will look is still being discussed.

View a PDF of the bulletin.

K-12 Bulletin #4

We continue to wait for an announcement from government on what May and June will look like for our members. We will post information as soon as we receive it.

Many districts are opening child care for Tier 2, Tier 3, and for vulnerable children. Please refer to two bulletins from BC Centre for Disease Control and the BC Ministry of Health for information on COVID-19: Public Health Guidelines for Childcare Settings and Cleaning and Disinfectants for Public Settings

Click on blue titles to go to link or find them on the K-12 web site at: bcschools.cupe.ca

Many members are volunteering for things outside of their normal routines. On behalf of the K-12 Presidents Council, I thank them all for their work that supports students and frontline workers.

COVID-19: Public Health Guidelines for Childcare Settings PDF

Cleaning and Disinfectants for Public Settings PDF

Bulletin #4 PDF


CUPE 716 supports Richmond school district food programs

RICHMOND—CUPE Local 716, representing K-12 support staff in School District 38, is supporting the Richmond Food Program and the district’s Feed-U-Cate-38 program that provide food to Richmond families. CUPE 716 President Ian Hillman and First Vice President Stacey Robinson presented a cheque in the amount of $547 to School Board Chair Ken Hamaguchi today at Richmond Secondary School.

SD38 has been providing food support for families in need by feeding children nutritious breakfast and lunch in schools during the year. This year, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and suspension of in-class learning, SD38 began delivering food to their families on April 8. The donation will also help with SD38’s Feed-U-Cate-38 program that has provided grants to schools to buy food for students since 2012.

“This year we wanted to do a little more because of the pressing needs in the community caused by the pandemic,” said Hillman. “Our district’s program is important to students and families and we are pleased to support it.”

CUPE members who are involved include the grounds crew who pick up food from the food bank and a number of grocery stores, education assistants who receive the food and prepare bags for delivery, custodians who are sanitizing work areas, and members from the transportation department who are helping distribute hampers.

The local usually donates funds raised at their Christmas party to the Feed-U-Cate-38 Program but this year decided to donate additional funds.

K-12 Bulletin #3

Things continue to change rapidly. Our primary concern remains the health and safety of our members. 

Many members have begun to be redeployed in various ways by different districts.  There are details still being worked out and districts are taking varied approaches.  We have sent a survey out to identify what districts are doing and will share your responses with all presidents. 

Thank you to the many CUPE members who are stepping up and providing supports to the children of essential frontline health care workers throughout B.C. Your work and commitment is appreciated by everyone. 

We hope to hear from the government next week about what will happen after April and will update you as soon as we have more information. 

Please remember to continue following the directives from Provincial Health Officer (PHO) Dr. Bonnie Henry.

As Minister of Health Adrian Dix says, “Bend the curve, not the rules.” We are all in this together.

Warren Williams
K-12 Presidents Council President


What’s the latest information on wearing homemade masks?

Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry reissued guidance on wearing cloth masks in public. There is no evidence that a non-medical face covering such as a homemade mask, bandana or scarf can protect the person wearing it. However, a handmade cloth face covering can for the short-term protect others from your droplets and help keep them safe. The PHO reminded us that medical N95 masks should be reserved for front line essential workers.

If I don’t think my district is implementing safety measures can I stay home and refuse unsafe work?

No. In order to refuse unsafe work an employee must see firsthand that the workplace is unsafe. Please refer to the information sheet on Right to Refuse Unsafe Work for the process.

If I quit my job can I get the $2000 per month from the federal government?

No. Canada Revenue Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) funds are not available for employees who are getting paid or who have voluntarily left their jobs.

View a PDF of the bulletin.

K-12 Bulletin #2 – FAQ

The COVID-19 situation continues to change rapidly and we are all working to respond effectively and quickly, not only in terms of public health, but also to best support our members and provide information on actions being taken by the B.C. government and school districts.

Each district is developing their own plan for continuity of learning and a safety plan to keep students and staff safe.

As we get more information over the coming days, we will post it on our K-12 web site bcschools.cupe.ca. Please check this site regularly for the latest information.

As many of us are working under unusual circumstances and not seeing colleagues every day, it becomes even more important that we stay connected. Be kind to yourself and to each other.

We all must continue to follow the orders of B.C. Health Officer Bonnie Henry.

Stay safe.
Warren Williams, K-12 Presidents Council President

What can I expect when I go back to work next week?

The K-12 Presidents Council had a Webinar with presidents Wednesday night (March 25) and we heard from three districts that returned to work this week. They reported that district safety plans are in place with different approaches taken in terms of staff return. One district is staggering start times and redeploying staff, one district is considering this first week a planning week and is working closely with their CUPE local. A third district surveyed members collaboratively with the local to learn what concerns they had and if they had the necessary resources to work from home. Check with your district as there are many other various scenarios out there.

What type of safety procedures are in place to keep support staff safe?

The Ministry of Education and the provincial government, working with the Provincial Health Officer, have advised school districts to develop procedures to ensure schools continue to follow the highest standard of cleaning practices; promote and support physical distancing; and control access to buildings to limit exposure. If you haven’t received information from your school district, please contact your Local.

Will I get the $2000 per month from the federal government?

The Canada Revenue Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) of $2000 per month for up to four months is available for workers who need support because they are facing unemployment. These funds are not available for employees who are getting paid.

The Premier has assured K-12 workers that if they were normally returning to work following spring break they will get paid (with the exception of on-call and auxiliary workers).

Can I refuse to go back to work because it’s unsafe?

Please see this FAQ on COVID-19 and the Right to Refuse Unsafe Work in B.C. Please note that this is general information and there are some exceptions to the regulations. The Provincial Health officer is working on a safety plan for child care and has directed safety plans for K-12 schools.

What will happen to my benefits?

As per the March 20 letter from the Public Sector Employers’ Council Secretariat (PSEC), the continuation of wages and benefits for our members in K-12 will continue until the end of April and will be reviewed before that date is reached.

K-12 Bulletin #2 – FAQ