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OPSEU/SEFPO: To keep our schools safe, Educational Support Workers must be consulted

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Toronto – OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren (Smokey) Thomas says consulting front-line education workers on how to reopen schools safely this month is the best way to reduce the spread of COVID and save lives.

“We want to see our kids back to school, but we must do everything we can to keep our students and education workers safe,” said Thomas. “That should include speaking with all the different kinds of educational workers on the front lines, and their bargaining agents like OPSEU/SEFPO, about what they need.

“Who’d know better how to make our schools safe than the people who’ve been working in them throughout the entire pandemic? I know the Premier realizes the value in tapping into the expertise of the front lines, I look forward to discussing it with him.”

While most students and teachers have been engaged in online learning since the holiday break, many of OPSEU/SEFPO Educational Support Workers have been back in classrooms since early January supporting Ontario’s most vulnerable students, many of whom are exempt from wearing masks. The support workers’ ability to maintain physical distancing is often not possible because many students require close contact for personal, medical, and behavioural support.

“Talk about heroes willing to risk their own safety for the students they care for,” said OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida. “Educational support workers do what they do because they’re committed to helping their students and keeping them safe.

“Talk to them – their hearts are in the right place, they have great insight, and they have great ideas.”

Among the ideas that front line education workers who belong to OPSEU/SEFPO have been calling on the government to adopt: immediately provide enhanced PPE for front line education workers, increase rapid testing to all schools, and develop a contact tracing protocol that protects workers, students, families, and communities.

“We’re all in the same boat during this pandemic, and we’ll only get through when we’re all pulling together,” said Thomas. “The government is missing a golden opportunity, and doing a disservice to students and families, if it doesn’t call on the expertise and ideas of front-line staff like Educational Support Workers and Adult Education Workers.”

For more information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931