British Columbia

Educational assistants 'anxious' as some schools start child care for essential workers

As school sites open up across  B.C. to provide child care for the children of essential service workers, the union that represents the employees providing that care has been flooded with concerns by employees worried about health and safety.

Physical distancing, sanitation measures in place at all school child-care sites

Essential worker child care is being offered at Lord Roberts elementary school in Vancouver's West End. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

As child-care sites open across B.C. for children of essential service workers, employees providing that care are worried about health and safety, says the union representing them.

"There's a lot of anxiety — without a doubt, that's more than fair to say," said Warren Williams, chair of a B.C bargaining council of the Canadian Union of Public Employees. 

CUPE represents most of the support workers, including educational assistants, youth and child-care workers, who are staffing the facilities aimed at helping essential services keep running in B.C. during the COVID-19 crisis.

This week was the first that 19 school districts, so far, have opened programs for elementary-age children whose parents are working in essential sectors including health care, law enforcement, emergency response, transportation and food production

A sanitation table is set up outside of an entrance at Lord Roberts elementary school in Vancouver, B.C., where children of essential service workers are being provided child care. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

 'Where do I find sanitizer'

"It was hectic," he said. "We had a lot of calls coming... A lot of questions around how many children to expect, what the day is going to look like, where do I find sanitizer, gloves," he said.

It's not known how many children of essential workers are signed up around the province.

Not forced to work

Support workers may decline work at the child-care sites if they need to be at home to provide their own child care, their immune systems are compromised or someone in their immediate family is immune compromised, said Williams. 

Warren Williams of the Canadian Union of Public Employees is hopeful the kinks are getting worked out as some B.C. schools start providing child care for essential service workers. (CUPE/submitted)

There has not been a situation where a support worker who fears contracting COVID-19 has been forced to work, he said.

Some school districts are suggesting support workers take sick leave or vacation time if they don't want to work under the circumstances. 

In Vancouver, there are about 130 children registered for care in three elementary schools: Elsie Roy in Yaletown, Lord Roberts in the West End and Lord Nelson in East Vancouver.

Elsie Roy elementary school in Vancouver's Yaletown district is one of three sites in the city that is offering child care for essential workers during the COVID-19 crisis. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

In Surrey, about 150 students are registered with two schools open so far and a third site coming Wednesday.

'Attendance will vary'

Surrey School District  spokesperson Ritinder Matthew would not release the names of its school sites, citing "privacy and security reasons." 

In both Vancouver and Surrey, not all registered students show up on any given day. In Surrey, for example, fewer than 30 children were attending at the beginning of the week.

Physical distancing in place

 Matthew emphasized   "all infection control practices" are being followed, and that physical distancing is in place.

 "We're encouraging the classes to go outside whenever possible — not playing on playground equipment, just running around,"  she said. 

Essential worker childcare is being offered at Lord Roberts elementary school in Vancouver, B.C. There also are three sites in Surrey, and five in Langley, B.C. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Surrey has at least one teacher at each of its sites to help support learning during regular school hours, said Matthew.

Gyms in Langley

In Langley five elementary schools are designated  "learning hubs" and there were 27 students registered by Tuesday, although the district is expecting more to come.

Students are in the school gyms with stations for each student spaced at least two metres apart.

"The station has things like a desk, gym mat and other supplies" wrote Langley spokesperson Joanne Abshire in an email. "There are also other learning stations around the gym for students to use, go and grab books or other educational tools needed."

Love working with kids

Surrey, Vancouver and Langley school districts all told CBC that there has been no difficulty getting enough employees to staff the child-care sites.

"Our members do this work because they love working with youth, with children. "They want to ensure that kids grow up and are healthy contributors to society" said Williams. 

With files from Belle Puri

CBC Vancouver's Impact Team investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community and strives to hold individuals, institutions and organizations to account. If you have a story for us, email



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