CUPE is urging the Ontario government to use school reopenings as an opportunity to set province-wide standards for a range of measures that will promote safer classrooms for students and staff, and help stop the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

“Come September, our schools will need more cleaning, more staffing, and more equipment. It only makes sense that newly implemented protocols and procedures are carried out to the same high standard across the province,” said Laura Walton, President of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions, which which represents 55,000 education workers.

Currently, each school board sets its own standards on everything from custodial maintenance to the number of students assigned to a single education assistant (EA). But as they prepare to reopen schools, boards will take on new responsibilities for putting new procedures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

CUPE education workers want to make sure that only the best practices are implemented uniformly across the province, said Walton.

“Every classroom, every cafeteria, every office and common area in Ontario should be cleaned the same way and to the same standards. Every school should have enough EAs so they can be assigned to one classroom and don’t have to move from room to room to assist students. Every school should have the same protocols for contact tracing, so that in the event of a COVID outbreak, administrative staff can all follow the same proven procedures across the province,” said Walton.

She called provincial standards “the most reliable way of preventing the spread of COVID-19 in schools, and the best way to assure students, parents and staff across Ontario that their schools are safe and healthy places to work and learn.”

But for that to happen, Walton continued, school boards need “directives from the province, not simply guidelines. And the Minister of Education already seems to have missed an opportunity to lead in this area by announcing status-quo funding entitlements for the province’s school boards” – referring to today’s release of the Grants for Student Needs. (See Walton’s statement about the 2020-21 here.)

“In the 2020-21 GSN, the Minister of Education should recognize that there’s a cost to keeping COVID out of our schools and to keeping students and staff safe,” said Walton.