PEI

Citing COVID concerns, union asks P.E.I. to pause respite care programs in schools

The union that represents school education support staff is asking the province to put a pause on the respite care programs in schools when conditions are not safe. 

Union says employees need better protection from COVID-19 infection

The union representing education support staff says more safety protocols need to be in place for the P.E.I. in-school respite care program. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

The union that represents school education support staff on P.E.I. is asking the province to put a pause on the respite care programs in schools when conditions are not safe. 

Respite care is in place at schools to help students who have special needs, and who generally use education support staff when in-person school is in session. 

CUPE Local 3260, which represents the workers who do this work, said the employees it represents are not being provided with appropriate personal protective equipment. 

"We are very proud of the program and we believe in it, and it's very valuable to our students,"  said Carolyn Vandaele, CUPE Local 3260 President. "But safety protocols have to be followed. We cannot social distance from our students, and some of our children cannot wear masks." 

She said some of the members of the union had only received all the protective equipment needed yesterday, and she believes some at other schools may not have received what they need yet. 

Safety concerns need to be addressed

Vandaele would like to see teachers, and students who can wear them, get shields, eye goggles and masks during the program. 

'We know how transmissible this new variant is, so we are very concerned for our safety,' says Carolyn Vandaele. (Submitted by Carolyn Vandaele)

The union is also asking the province to stop programming when there have been COVID cases in specific workplaces.

"We really feel that if there are safety concerns, then the program should be shut down, those concerns addressed before the program is started back up again," she said. 

The union also said because of a shortage of rapid tests, the promise of regular testing is not being met. 

"The daily testing was a sense of security to our members," Vandaele said.

The province has responded to the concerns from the union in a statement to CBC News, saying it appreciates the work happening in the respite program. 

It goes on to say about 460 students use the program in the province, and that the staff-to-student ratio for respite is 2:1 or 2:2, so that no staff person works alone.

"Our educational authorities have ensured that all public health protocols are being followed in the respite program, including limiting capacity, regular testing (up to 3 times a week) and masking procedures."

The union represents more than 800 educational assistants, youth service workers, workplace assistants, student attendants and educational language interpreters on P.E.I. 

"We see the cases, numbers go up every day in the media," Vandaele said. "We know how transmissible this new variant is, so we are very concerned for our safety."

With files from Angela Walker

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