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CUPE-BC – Phased-in approach to re-opening schools a solid plan

BURNABY—CUPE BC and the CUPE K-12 Presidents Council welcome Education Minister Rob Fleming’s announcement today that schools will re-open the week of September 8–11 as scheduled, with orientation days in place for support staff, teachers and other workers in schools to familiarize themselves with procedures before students return to classrooms on September 10.

“The number one goal of the restart plan is to open schools safely for all—students, and everyone who works in our schools. The details announced this morning will help ensure that all K-12 workers will understand how schools will operate in the ‘new normal,’” said CUPE BC President Paul Faoro.  “All stakeholders generally support this phased-in approach.”

Faoro noted the importance of following the health and safety guidance of Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry as schools reopen. “Dr. Henry and her public health team will keep a close eye on what’s happening, and plans may change as needed.”

CUPE K-12 Presidents Council President Warren Williams said that it’s important for locals and districts to work together to develop safety plans. “Safety plans are paramount for the K-12 Restart,” said Williams. “Time is short and this step is crucial for a safe opening for students and staff.”

CUPE BC represents 100,000 workers delivering important public services in nearly every community in the province.  The K-12 Presidents Council is comprised of presidents from 57 K-12 locals, representing 30,000 support staff in schools throughout B.C.

COPE 491

Canadian Labour Congress -We need EI reform now!

The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) has helped millions of unemployed Canadians.

The benefit was crucial to supporting those who lost their jobs during the pandemic.

But the federal government is phasing out the CERB program in September. It's promising to shift those workers to Employment Insurance (EI).

That’s exactly what we’ve been asking it to do. But there's just one thing: the EI system needs a MAJOR overhaul.

Send a letter to the prime minister and your MP and tell them to reform EI now.

We're hearing stories from the U.S. about families running out of money and losing their homes. Canada has managed to avoid those hardships because we all worked together.

We need to keep moving forward. Let's disaster-proof Canada by building a 21st century EI system.

Thank you.

Marie Clarke Walker, Secretary-Treasurer
Canadian Labour Congress
Standing up for workers and their families



Duty to accommodate

A1. What if members have compromised immune systems, or other medical conditions that put them at a higher risk for COVID-19? (FAQ #1)

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.

A2. What if members refuse to go to work in September? (FAQ #1)

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.

A9. What will happen to members who have compromised immune systems or other health issues that present challenges for returning to work? (FAQ #2)

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.

A10. Can I be accommodated because I live with someone who is immunocompromised? (FAQ #2)

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.

Learning groups (cohorts)

A3. What is a learning group (cohort)? (FAQ #1)

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.

A4. Are learning groups similar to household bubbles? (FAQ #1)

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.

A5. Why use learning groups? (FAQ #1)

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.

A11. How will the learning groups work on buses? (FAQ #2)

All districts have various ways of dealing with students on buses: some will keep them in cohorts; some will put them in family groupings; and some will keep an empty seat between them. Districts will have to follow all protocols and guidelines of the PHO. We understand that this will be outlined in each district’s health and safety plan as part of the restart plan. CUPE staff will be gathering information on health and safety plans and issues arising from each local so that we can track progress and concerns as they come up. This will help us coordinate efforts across B.C.

A12. What about members who work on multiple sites or throughout the school like Indigenous support workers, IT, custodians, education support workers, first aid attendants and noon-hour supervisors? (FAQ #2)

We understand that staff who transition between learning groups or work with students from different learning groups will not be included as part of any single learning group. This means that they will take appropriate precautions, including physical distancing and appropriate PPE, when working.

Find more information here.

Health and safety

A6. Will all school districts need to follow the same safety protocols? (FAQ #1)

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.

A13. What if a member, student or teacher contracts COVID-19? (FAQ #2)

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.


A7. How will stage 2 planning work? (FAQ #1)

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.

A8. How is government helping? (FAQ #1)

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).

A14. We hear conflicting information about how children transmit, and if masks should be worn. How do we know what we should do?(FAQ #2)

We have consistently been told that B.C. is in a good place with public health able to manage transmission. We have also been told by PHO Dr. Bonnie Henry that children transmit the virus at a low level. We have been following the direction of the PHO who stressed that education is essential, and children need to be in school or may face lifelong implications. The Stage 2 protocols have been designed to allow children to return to school safely – safety being paramount.

We are working to find answers for many questions our members have and will add them to future FAQs.

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