Consult front-line workers before reopening schools

“Front-line support workers are experiencing anxiety, increased workload, and loss of pay related to faulty reporting mechanisms and contact tracing. It’s important to set standardized, contact tracing protocols across every public school board.” — Warren (Smokey) Thomas, OPSEU President

Toronto (14 Jan. 2021) — The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE) is calling on the government to enhance PPE and contact-tracing protocols, and to consult closely with front-line workers on a safe re-entry plan when Ontario’s public schools reopen.

Workers have the experience needed to advise on safety

“Front-line workers know best what it will take to ensure their own safety and the safety of their students,” said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “They’re worried about things like contact tracing, physical distancing, and movement in elementary, secondary, and adult-learning classrooms.”

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Williams announced an extension to online learning for elementary students in southern Ontario until January 25. Education Minister Stephen Lecce also announced the government will extend emergency childcare services to education workers, providing in-person support to students who cannot be accommodated through remote learning.

Children not immune to COVID-19

With COVID infection rates at their highest and quadrupling among school-aged children in the past few weeks, OPSEU/NUPGE, which represents 8,000 workers in school boards around the province, says it was the right decision given the current situation.

“Front-line support workers are experiencing anxiety, increased workload, and loss of pay related to faulty reporting mechanisms and contact tracing,” noted Thomas. “It’s important to set standardized contact tracing protocols across every public school board,” said Thomas. “It’s not rocket science, so let’s get cracking.  Lives and learning are at stake.”

All workers in schools at risk

OPSEU/NUPGE says its educational support workers are too often the forgotten heroes in Ontario’s education system. Many education workers providing special-needs support have been working in the classroom since January 4, 2021 – even as the province sinks deeper in lockdown, and COVID numbers climb.

“When we see COVID infection rates soaring in all age groups, we need to hit the brakes and take a good, hard look at extra safeguards in schools and classrooms,” said OPSEU First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida. “Right now, we’ve got an opportunity to work together to open schools safely, and keep them open. Let’s use it. Let’s learn from our front-line workers – and get it right.” 

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The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE