New Brunswick

High school bus drivers anxious after they're left out of school staff vaccination plan

Iris Lloyd, provincial president of CUPE Local 1253, which represents school bus drivers and school custodians, says her members are worried about the return to full-time classes for high school students on April 12.

Bus drivers, custodians are in the dark about how return to full-time classes for high school will work

Members of the New Brunswick Council of School District Unions say they have received no information from government on whether more buses will be added to safely get twice as many high school students to school beginning April 12. (Colleen Connors/CBC )

Iris Lloyd, provincial president of CUPE Local 1253, which represents school bus drivers and school custodians, says her members are worried about the return to full-time classes for high school students on April 12.

With no communication between the union and Education Minister Dominic Cardy, the decision not to offer bus drivers the vaccine until the second round of school vaccination clinics, doesn't make sense to Lloyd.

"They are, in fact, in close contact with high school students on a daily basis, even though they do have the curtains and their community masks on, we felt that they should have been included in that first round of vaccinations," she said.

There is no timeframe as to when her members will be able to get the vaccine, and no plan for how buses will be able to safely transport twice as many high school students each day.

"We've been given no information," Lloyd said. "Does this mean additional runs to the drivers … are they going to be adding more buses to the fleet? We have no idea come April the 12th how we are going to do this."

CUPE 1253 president Iris Lloyd can't understand why bus drivers weren't included in the first round of vaccinations this week for high school staff in preparation for the full-time return to school on April 12. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

The frustration and anxiety levels of bus drivers in the Moncton area went up this week when they received an email from the provincial government inviting them to a vaccination clinic, she said.

"Once the drivers signed up, they had received another email from the province stating, 'Whoops, we had made a mistake.'"

Custodians workload will double

Lloyd said that while custodians are included in vaccination clinics this week, they remain in the dark as to how the return-to-school for high schools students is going to work, and how they will be able to keep classrooms clean.

Cleaning staff have been going "above and beyond" since the pandemic began, and she isn't sure how they will be able to cope when another 15 students are added to every classroom.

"Are they going to give us extra personnel on the custodial side to handle the influx of the extra workload? We have no idea yet," she said. "We're not quite sure how we're going to keep those schools cleaned."

The New Brunswick Council of School District Unions says high school custodians aren't sure how they will be able to keep classrooms clean when the number of students in schools doubles on April 12. (Sofia Rodriguez/CBC)
 

She blames the uncertainty on an ongoing lack of communication and consultation from Education Minister Domunic Cardy, which has left CUPE members feeling "undervalued and underappreciated in the education system."

"We had no idea that there was even a possibility of high school students coming back in April. Had we known that, we would have worked with them on ways … we could safely get the job done."

Lloyd said CUPE has set up a meeting with the deputy education minister and is part of a working group. She hopes the concerns her members are raising are reaching Cardy.

When asked to respond, the Department of Education provided an emailed statement.

"In the coming weeks, additional vaccination clinics will be available for staff in elementary and middle schools, including bus drivers and for early childhood service providers and child-care staff, as part of the large employer section of the vaccine rollout plan." 

with files from Information Morning Moncton, Information Morning Saint John

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