Returning to school without a more detailed plan is a mistake says the union representing school custodians, secretaries and bus drivers. Sherry Hillier, President of CUPE Newfoundland and Labrador, says she has serious concerns about the government’s school re-entry plan and wants to see more engagement with stakeholders prior to the beginning of the school year.

“While the plan addresses many actions that can help make our schools safe, it leaves many questions unanswered,” says Hillier. “For example, in the Western Region, there are bus drivers who are also school custodians. What are the protocols for keeping them safe if they are traveling between schools? And how can they just leave 6000 children to their own devices to find a way to school? That’s not right.”

Hillier says the plan lacks details on cleaning protocols and what personal protective equipment will be provided to custodians. “What is the cleaning protocol if there is a positive infection at a school?” she asks. “Is it just soap and water?”

CUPE Health and Safety Representative Jenna Brookfield says the plan lacks the direction and prioritization necessary to ensure the most effective safety measures are consistently applied in all schools across the province. “In addition, the guidelines for assessing hazards are not measurable or even enforceable,” she says, “and the plan suggests that plexiglass separations are optional. Who is making this decision and what criteria will they be using?”

“What are priorities for frequent cleaning throughout the day, and how will the flow of students be organized to ensure they are absent from common areas in order to clean high touch surfaces? This work will be essential in ensuring a safe school environment and warrants being fully planned and articulated ahead of time.”

Hillier outlined these and other concerns last week in a letter to NL English School District Director, Tony Stack, but has not heard back. CUPE represents about 1500 school board workers in Newfoundland and Labrador.