With Ontario expected to announce a back-to-school plan this week, education workers from Hamilton, Brantford and Halton Region began meetings with union leaders on Tuesday to envision what they would like to see with a return amid the COVID-19 pandemic this fall.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents over 2,000 school board employees at Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB), Halton Catholic District School Board (HCDSB) and Grand Erie District School Board (GEDSB), says they’re “putting their heads together” to make recommendations to the province on how they see a safe return to class.
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Custodians, education assistants, school secretaries, library assistants, maintenance workers, office and clerical staff are a part of two sessions in which each will contribute to recommendations based on work experiences during the pandemic.
“Since the pandemic began, education workers have shared information and advice regularly with the ministry of education, just as we’ve continued to support students, schools, families and communities,” said Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions.
“Education workers know how schools work and what students need. Our input is critical to a safe reopening and we will do all we can to make sure our schools are safe places to learn and work in September.”
During a news conference last Wednesday in Thunder Bay, Ont., premier Doug Ford said the Conservatives would announce the province’s September back-to-school plan early in August.
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“It’s a very comprehensive plan and we’re making sure that we increase the protocols to make sure the two million kids that are going back to school are going to be safe, as well as the teachers, changing everything from HEPA filters to making sure they have proper ventilation in the schools,” Ford said.
Improved air quality was one of the recommendations from the province’s advisory group of science experts, who also called for schools to remain open in all but the most catastrophic scenarios.
Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer, hinted at a “conservative” opening of schools last week due to concern over a rise in cases this fall due to a surging Delta variant.
Ontario’s top doctor says students aged 12 to 17 who aren’t vaccinated against COVID-19 will be subject to stricter isolation rules in the event of virus outbreaks this fall.
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CUPE is also suggesting there’s a need for better ventilation standards in addition to smaller class sizes, and a provincial cleaning standard.
“We will be discussing these and other issues to ensure that health, safety and the quality of students’ education are prioritized again for schools in the region,” Walton said.
The sessions are the first in-person meetings of regional education workers since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
— with files from the Canadian Press
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