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Teachers, education workers say current back-to-school plan does not meet safety standards
The current back-to-school plan does not provide the adequate level of safety required to protect students and their families from COVID-19, say union leaders representing teachers and educational workers.
The comments were made earlier today at a news conference hosted by the unions representing teachers, education assistants, bus drivers, school specialists, admin assistants, nurses and other workers in the public school system. High among the list of concerns is the lack of proper physical distancing in schools, large class sizes, poor ventilation and inconsistent rules regarding masks. There also needs to be a clear protocol in place to halt the spread and inform parents in the event of an outbreak at a school.
“Opening schools safely needs to be a top priority. We owe it to our children to get this plan right so they can be back with their friends and teachers in an environment where they can thrive,” says NSTU president Paul Wozney. “But a plan that involves cramming 20-30 kids at a time into small, stuffy classrooms and opening a window doesn’t provide the level of confidence that is required.”
Nova Scotia Federation of Labour President Danny Cavanagh says safety has to be priority number 1 this September. “The public educations system is the largest, most interconnected workplace in the province and in a couple of weeks 150,000 people will be walking into schools for the first time in six months. Given what’s at stake this is the last place where you want to be cutting corners in terms of safety. Unfortunately, the government’s current school reopening plan falls well short of public health guidelines designed to protect families and workers from COVID-19 exposure.”
Nova Scotia Nurses Union President Janet Hazelton who represents nurses in the public school system agrees and says: “Lessons learned in our recent experience with COVID, the most important being the health and safety of staff and those they serve are critical.”
“A huge concern is that it when comes to occupational health and safety, the plan is silent,” says Nan McFadgen, President, CUPE Nova Scotia. “A well-thought-out plan would contain a series of controls such as plexiglass barriers, arranging work flow and people to minimize contact, and PPE. Nowhere is there evidence of such planning. The actions proposed are only half-formed and often offered as suggestions rather than requirements.”
“Schools are ecosystems run by a huge intersection of different people. There are students and teachers, but also a whole array of other workers, including teaching assistants and library staff SEIU Local 2 represents,” says SEIU Local 2 vice president/business agent. “The Province’s reckless approach to reopening, places all of these people—and by extension, the community at large—at risk of contracting coronavirus. Working people deserve basic rights to a safe working and learning environment. That means, at a minimum, adequate social distancing and access to masks.”
“The NSGEU was on a call with government officials yesterday and there are still many important details not being considered such as working with Occupational Health and Safety Committees to conduct safety audits of all work places,” says NSGEU President Jason MacLean. “The NSGEU stands in solidarity with all school workers who have the right to know the specific plans and actions in place to protect the health and safety of students and staff. Government’s wait and see approach is not good enough and students, workers, and families deserve better.”
The Nova Scotia Federation of Labour is the provincial voice of the Labour Movement, representing 70,000 members in over 400 union locals.