Letter from Warren Williams, President of the K-12 Union Presidents’ Council – July 20, 2020

July 30, 2020

Hello everybody,

I understand that the restart announcement came as quite a surprise to members. CUPE, along with other stakeholders, have been involved by providing input on the plan. The consultation involved all K-12 education stakeholders throughout the development process, and CUPE’s concerns helped shape the plan that went forward. Unions have equal representation on the steering committee that is working on the September K-12 restart plan.

We know that members are nervous and fearful; we are in a pandemic—something we’ve never seen before. The restart plan allows for cohorts or learning groups of a maximum of 60 in elementary and middle schools and 120 in secondary schools. These numbers reflect the scientific and public health evidence that has led B.C. to be recognized as a leader in pandemic management and transmission control.

CUPE puts the health and safety of our members first, as well as the safety of students and staff, families and the public. The September restart plan recognizes the importance of education for children and also for our members’ livelihoods. Many of B.C.’s most vulnerable kids remained in schools throughout April, May and June, thanks to our dedicated EAs and support staff who were able to make those environments safe and productive. While there were challenges experienced, those challenges were overcome and informed the development of the plan announced this week.

The design of the school day, learning group system, and overall return plan was developed with the advice and guidance of the Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. It has been her guidance and leadership that has made B.C. a leading jurisdiction in North America in terms of managing the pandemic, keeping transmissions low, and maintaining key services.

In terms of what CUPE and the K-12 Presidents Council have been seeking, there are several elements of the plan that are the direct result of CUPE’s advocacy, including funding for increased daytime cleaning, and the provision of masks to anyone who requests them.

The return to school plan is just that, a plan. It will be adjusted and changed based on experience and new information as it rolls out, as well as on how the pandemic evolves. As we discuss implementation over the next few weeks, our focus will remain on keeping the environment safe for all members who work directly with kids in schools, along with other CUPE members whose valuable work is key to the public school system.

CUPE and the K-12 Presidents Council ‘s advocacy continues each and every day as the plan evolves and is being implemented.

In safety and solidarity,

Warren Williams

President of CUPE K-12 Presidents’ Council


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Ministry Announcement

Dear Members:

Having just watched the ministry announcement on school opening in September we all have many questions. I can assure you your union’s number one priority is your heath and safety. We will do whatever is in our ability to do so. I will update you as we receive more information from management as this plan is evolving.

You should know that CUPE has made a submission to the WCB task force examining this issue, and brother Tom McKenna, the National Representative with Health & Safety portfolio has made a comprehensive and detailed submission on various issues. The K-12 Presidents’ council meets this afternoon. We will advise you as this situation unfolds. Stay tuned to Facebook or cupe716.ca

In solidarity




Ian HIllman, President of CUPE 716 Richmond Public Schools Employees



  • Most B.C. students from kindergarten to Grade 12 will return to school in the fall, divided into cohorts or “learning groups.”
  • Elementary and middle school learning groups will have a maximum of 60 students.
  • Secondary school learning groups will have up to 120 students.
  • Provincial government is putting up $45.6 million to help ensure safety measures.

Most B.C. students from kindergarten to Grade 12 will return to class full time in September, Education Minister Rob Fleming announced Wednesday.

Fleming said, on the advice of provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, students will be organized into “learning groups” to reduce the number of people they come in contact with, cutting the risk of transmitting the novel coronavirus.

Henry said elementary and middle school learning groups will have a maximum of 60 students, while those in secondary school will have up to 120. Fewer students will be allowed in the learning groups for younger students, as it is more difficult for them to practise safe physical distancing and proper handwashing, she said.

Henry said students in the same learning group will have opportunities to socialize outside of the classroom in shared spaces like hallways and cafeterias, calling the plan a “balancing act” to ensure students have the opportunity for social interactions without creating an environment where the virus could rapidly spread.

The provincial government is putting up $45.6 million to ensure safety measures, including increased cleaning of high-contact surfaces, an increased number of hand-hygiene stations and the availability of masks.
‘A reasonable approach’

Staff and students, or their parents, will be expected to assess themselves daily for symptoms of COVID-19. Masks will not be mandatory, but will be recommended and provided in situations where physical distancing cannot be maintained.

Henry said she has “great confidence” in the plan, and that schools can safely reopen, as long as community transmission remains low.

“We cannot predict the future. We are planning for a number of scenarios — if there is increase in cases, [we] will review,” she said, adding there is no “magic number” of cases that would cause provincial officials to re-assess their plan.
About 200,000 students went back to classes in June, which Fleming said gave officials important information on how to safely welcome students and staff back.

Henry and Fleming emphasized throughout Wednesday’s news conference that there is no replacement for in-class learning, recognizing that parents trying to manage at-home education since March has put enormous strain on families.

“The impact of closing of schools can be lifelong for some children. We know there’s been an increase in anxiety, in mental health issues for young people, with families that have had challenges with having children at home.” said Henry.

“We think this is a reasonable approach. It is going to take some adjustment.”

But the B.C. Teachers Federation (BCTF) says the plan requires “more time and work” and has requested more consultation with school districts and local unions.

“If the plan is rushed or too many questions are left unanswered, it won’t be successful. Bringing everyone back all at once, even with some version of a cohort model on the first day after the Labour Day long weekend is too much too soon, given the many unanswered questions in today’s announcement,” the union said in a statement.

“Teachers and support staff need time in September to adjust to the new structures, make sure the proper health and safety protocols work and prepare curricular resources and lessons that meet the new reality.”

The BCTF also said smaller class sizes are needed to maintain physical distancing and requested more clarity on how the cohort model will keep teachers and students safe.

However, B.C.’s Liberal party says the back-to-school plan fails to provide leadership and clarity for parents and teachers.

“Dr. Bonnie Henry and health officials are doing excellent work to ensure students and staff are safe, but NDP Education Minister Rob Fleming’s decision to download responsibility onto school districts is just creating more uncertainty for parents, students and teachers,” said Dan Davies, the B.C. Liberal education critic.
Parents wary

A recent poll suggests many parents are on the fence about sending their kids back to school at all.

The poll by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies found 40 per cent of B.C. parents would send their kids back to school if there was some kind of classroom instruction at least a few days a week — lower than the national average of 59 per cent.

In B.C., 48 per cent of parents said they were still undecided.

The online poll of more than 1,500 people took place over the past weekend. It cannot be given a margin of error because it is not a random sample.

The poll also found more than 80 per cent of people were in favour of mandatory temperature checks for students and mandatory masks for teachers.

Author: the beautiful Michelle Ghoussoub

President’s Report – June 30, 2020

Dear Sisters & Brothers, Colleagues, Friends:


We got through a challenging school year, and for that, I want to thank you for your continued perseverance and dedication.

Many of our 12-month employees will continue working in operations, maintenance and custodial work, and some will continue providing direct student and clerical services to the summer school operations.

Much of the curriculum instruction continues with online integration, and things are far from being back to normal, but nothing in life is certain and I hope that the period of emergency management has at least allowed us all to re-examine what truly matters in life, spend some time with those closest to us and gain a new appreciation for the old ‘normalcy.’

Kurt Vonnegut was a famous writer and professor of literary criticism who wrote about the importance of meaning and stories to human lives. He told a story in all his lectures of his uncle Alex, a Harvard graduate who died childless, who reminded people often about how rarely we stop, enjoy and appreciate when things are good in our lives.  Sitting under a tree somewhere in the mid-west, drinking lemonade with Alex is Vonnegut’s favourite memory. “Hey, stop, look, isn’t this nice? If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” uncle Alex would ask.

And so before we return to the hustle and bustle of the new school year, I hope your summer will be filled with plenty of moments of “if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

I will continue working through the summer on the issues important to our membership and remain available for your calls, questions and conversation.


In solidarity,





Ian Hillman



Face Shields

Our union has acquired one hundred face shields. As we have 400 Education Assistants and 100 face shields, please only request one if you are working with students toileting and unable to physically distance. We can order more if we need to. Please email the union office if you could use one – cupe716office@gmail.com

President’s Report – May 27, 2020

Dear Sisters and Brothers, Colleagues, Friends:

As we approach June 1st, and a resumption of school services to the youth, I am grateful for all the many blessings, for your friendship, and for all you do.  Thank you.  We are all living and working through very uncertain times.

As June 1st approaches we still have many questions on school reopening.

I am not big on “what if’s.” Speculating on all the possibilities causes increased anxiety, worry and harms our solidarity.  We can only deal with what we know. As things unfold and as issues arise, we will address them. So far, we have had many concerns raised that we successfully resolved.

We worked hard to provide, first, for continued employment, and thus income at a time when many other workers received layoffs and businesses shut down.  Second, we worked to address system-wide failures or complications, that reflected the realities members reported to us.  Third, we addressed countless individual matters that arose concerning specific members.

All in all, we did very well.  Everyone received regular income while that was possible.  Now, most people are working, and those who are unable to come to work are either on government support or are using their sick days. Most people are not working full time hours but are getting paid full time wages.  This is something we should be thankful for and something that happened as a result of concerted efforts both at our Local level and at the provincial and regional levels of our union.

It is important for members to understand that a lot of work goes on behind the scenes to provide for everything positive that happens.  We have been meeting with the employer to deal with issues as they arise. Things are changing daily, if not hourly.

Something else I want to clarify. It is my job to meet with the employer and fight for your interests. Meeting with the employer does not mean we are necessarily in agreement with a particular directive or policy. It also does not mean that because we disagree with a particular decision there is anything we can do about it.

I am not happy that managers and administrators have been telling you on occasion that “the union agreed to this”.  We have been advised or consulted on many things we don’t agree with but cannot change.  Some of the decisions being made are not made by the district. They are being made by the Ministry of Education, Provincial and Richmond Health officers and the CDC and BCCDC. In a state of emergency, they have extraordinary powers to assure maximum public welfare.  You should also know that your managers also tried very hard to look out for your welfare.

The union is here to advocate for you and to uphold the Collective Agreement. The employer has the contractual right to manage. Management is also human.  They also do not have all the answers.  We have a very good working relationship with the employer. There are some issues neither they, nor we, have control over.

Moving forward I urge everyone to work through this together.  I ask our members to engage with openness and flexibility and give each other the benefit of doubt.  There is often a lack of information or incomplete information. I am happy to answer any questions.

Being divided or having unnecessary conflict, or scapegoating, or jumping to conclusions benefits no one.

Many of us are scared.  I’m concerned for you, I’m concerned for my family. Same is true for managers and everyone in the organization.  Everyone is trying their best.

There are many unanswered questions. But nothing in life is certain and we surely stand a better chance when we confront adversity together.  Please join me in being a United team.


In solidarity


Ian Hillman

President CUPE 716