The union representing Prince Edward Island school custodians, administrative support staff, educational assistants and bus drivers shared its concerns on the impact of COVID-19 with a legislative committee Tuesday.
So far there haven't been major issues in the school system, said Canadian Union of Public Employees P.E.I. Division national servicing representative Lori MacKay. And on the whole, the union is happy with how the return to school has gone since early September.
But she said the situation could change rapidly if the Island starts to experience community spread of COVID-19.
"When you don't have a model in place that allows for social distancing, it does create challenges when and if there is community spread," she told reporters after the session with MLAs.
As examples, MacKay said some buses are still carrying 72 students, and high school students are not staying within cohorts as children in younger grades are.
"We hope there is no community spread and things can carry on the way that they have been going in the past six weeks, but we are concerned about the potential, and we expressed that to the committee today," she said.
Call for transparency on plans
Among other things, the union is asking the provincial government to share its plans on how it intends to handle a potential second wave of COVID-19.
MacKay said that when the province decided to close schools back in March, it didn't give CUPE a heads-up before telling the public. That left union officials unable to answer questions from employees who wanted to know what the closure meant for them.
The more we're staying inside, the greater chance of spread of COVID. —Lori MacKay, CUPE P.E.I. Division president
"It's so much better when the communication comes from the top and filters out," she said.
With winter coming and students less able to spend time outside on school property, CUPE is also seeking a role in talks on what can be done to help its members feel safe.
"The more we're staying inside, the greater chance of spread of COVID," said MacKay.
"If an employee comes to us and says, 'Do I have the right to refuse work if they have no ability to social distance and if they are not able to guarantee [personal protective equipment]?' then, you know, it's going to be difficult to say that you're safe to report to work."
There's also the question of whether snow banks could eventually block entrances now being used by some students so that major doors to the school don't get too crowded.
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