Updated return to school plan inadequate on student and staff safety

The Saskatchewan government’s latest tweaks to the Safe School Plan ignored expert advice and the concerns of many staff, parents and students, said CUPE Saskatchewan’s Education Workers’ Steering Committee.

In the last week, the public health officer of Canada recommended that students over the age of 10 should wear masks, students and teachers must stay two metres apart wherever possible and students and teachers ought to be grouped together to reduce the number of close contacts.

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This advice was echoed by physician organizations in Saskatchewan and across the country.

“The Ministry of Education is ignoring expert advice and passing the buck to school divisions,” said Jackie Christianson, chair of CUPE’s Education Workers’ Steering Committee. “Why is the government refusing to do their job […] when it comes to keeping our students and staff safe?”

CUPE is also concerned about the lack of engagement with support staff.

“First, they excluded support staff from the planning process and we continue to be ignored from government announcements,” added Christianson.

“Where are the guidelines for educational assistants who support students in multiple classrooms?  There are no details regarding the caretakers who will be responsible for the enhanced cleaning in our schools. What about substitutes, our library assistants, or community school coordinators?  It is unacceptable that there are so many unanswered safety questions for support staff with less than two weeks remaining before most staff return to work.”

CUPE echoed the calls for a more robust plan, which would include mandatory masking for all students and staff at all times while in school. Separate cohorts should exist for students who are unable to wear masks for medical reasons.

Physical distancing of two metres should be a requirement for staff and students. Online and/or distance learning must be implemented to ensure student learning is achieved when not in school.

The union also called for enhanced hygiene for students and staff to access for handwashing. Additionally, CUPE wanted enhanced school ventilation air exchange/HVAC systems to reduce COVID-19 aerosol transmissions and emergency pandemic funding.

CUPE also believed the government should ensure there would be enough staff to implement their enhanced cleaning and disinfection protocols.  

“COVID-19 cannot be compared to lice or pink eye. What will it take for our government to come up with an actual safe plan for all students and staff returning to school in less than two weeks?” Christianson said in conclusion.