Rocky View Schools (RVS) is hiring more than 50 temporary caretakers for the 2020-21 school year to help with the enhanced cleaning protocols necessary due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As we’ve moved through the reopening plan, we’ve seen announcements from both Alberta Education as well as RVS on the expectation of cleaning in schools, with comments such as [the need for] increased frequency of cleaning and disinfecting of high-touch areas and equipment inside and outside the classroom,” said Associate Superintendent Larry Paul at a special meeting of RVS' Board of Trustees Aug. 20.
“Our caretaking staff is our first line of maintenance and we need to ensure that occurs. If you’re not cleaning the grit on the floors every day or emptying the garbage, that can create other issues in the school.”
At the meeting, trustees unanimously approved a budget request for up to $2 million from the division’s Operations and Maintenance reserve to hire the temporary custodians along with eight “floaters.” According to Paul, floaters are casual employees who cover the maintenance side of caretaking when the head facility operator is not available.
The additional employees would cover for any custodial staff who fall ill during the school year, Paul said. He added the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a new expectation that staff and students will stay home if they are not feeling well, which applies to custodial staff as well.
Considering custodians are the “frontline group” for cleaning and maintaining schools, Paul said it is important to have sufficient staffing resources in place in case they need to stay home.
“They’re interacting with staff and students constantly, and have exposure to other illnesses as well,” he said. “If we’re not looking at a higher level of replacement staff, we would be compromising the maintenance and cleanliness of the building.”
Trustees were overwhelmingly supportive of the budget request. Ward 1 trustee Shali Baziuk called it a “sound and well-thought-out” plan.
“One could look at this plan and think it’s almost overkill and we’re cleaning clean surfaces, but I think there are times when an abundance of caution is a good thing and this is one of those times,” she said. “We aren’t sure how often people will be getting ill – we don’t know what we don’t know – and I think of all the things we can do, ensuring we have coverage for sick and off-time [employees] is the right thing to do.”
Ward 3 trustee Jim Forrest echoed Baziuk’s sentiment. He said that, while the $2 million price tag “was not lost” on him, bringing in additional cleaning staff ensures RVS would be listening to the concerns of teachers, parents and other staff about safety in schools.
“Someone at some point mentioned that reserves need to be used for a rainy day, and that rainy day is here,” he said. “There’s also the expectation from government that we are to use the reserves as appropriate.
“When you look at the situation we’re in, I think this level of care can absolutely help assure people can have at least some confidence RVS is doing its best to ensure the safety of its students.”
According to Paul, the new hires would be temporary and could be laid off in the future if they were no longer deemed necessary.