Mondays can be a drag at the best of times. But for hundreds of Surrey public school education assistants, today was downright surreal.
Early Monday morning Surrey’s teachers awoke to learn they’d be getting a paid holiday made in snow heaven as the city’s students did not have to attend classes because of inclement weather. Hundreds of education assistants, however, were not so blessed.
Education assistants work alongside teachers to provide support to students. They, as, as well as other employees, were told they had to report to work. Or so they thought, until that apparently changed half-way through their working day.
Follow closely, now.
This “Snow Day!” notice was posted to surreyschools.ca on Monday morning: “All Surrey Schools closed today for teachers and students as the district works to clear snow. For school support staff and district offices, it’s business as usual.”
“This is a huge change in policy that we were not aware of,” CUPE local 728 first vice president Tammy Murphy told the Now-Leader. “So we have been working hard with the district today, I have been back-and-forth on emails, trying to call me right now on this issue and as I say, we weren’t aware of the change so we are working with them right now.
We are still waiting for info from the Employer on what our members are to do today. Unfortunately, we have been getting conflicting info.
— CUPE Local 728 (@CUPE728) February 11, 2019
— Surrey Schools (@Surrey_Schools) February 11, 2019
— Surrey Schools (@Surrey_Schools) February 11, 2019
“Literally it’s going crazy on Facebook, and on Twitter and I’m guessing everywhere, so we’re trying to help the members, trying to get them informed,” Murphy said. “There’s no wording. I know that past practice was that two years ago we were home as well. We’ve been directed that they go.”
Considering there are no teachers to assist or students to help today, Murphy said she’s “not sure what the expectation is.”
Surrey’s teachers are represented by a different union, the BCTF, and the Surrey Teacher’s Association. Asked if it might be a matter of different language in the collective agreements, Murphy said she’s not certain.
“I’m so sorry we don’t have more information. As I say, it was a policy change that we weren’t aware of.”
Doug Strachan, spokesman for the Surrey School District, confirmed that EAs and “non-teaching” staff were required to report to work Monday.
“There’s obviously far fewer of those staff for us to be able to accommodate some parking spaces for them,” he said. “Education assistants, janitors, clerical staff.”
Asked who the education assistants are expected to assist if there are no teachers or students, Strachan replied “My understanding is there are other duties that can be assigned, even if it’s related to, they have work related to their student or filing or that sort of thing.”
“I know that we have in the past, on snow days, had all staff come in and you could make the same argument that teachers wouldn’t have students there but they would be assigned other duties,” he noted.
Now hang onto your hats, gang. The Now-Leader received a phone call from Strachan at 11:30 a.m. to clarify that the EAs didn’t have to report to work, after all. He said he “got an email a few minutes ago from the superintendent clarifying” that EAs “won’t be required, and weren’t required to come to work, so that’s been clarified.”
Asked how many did report for work, as a result of the confusion, Strachan replied “I don’t know if it was communicated from principals more directly, but he’s just emailed, sent me a copy of an email that he’s clarifying that they aren’t required.”
“I’m just relaying what the superintendent’s relayed.” For those EAs who did show up, Strachan said, “They get paid if they show up to work and get paid if they don’t.”
Asked then if this new development was news to her, Murphy replied, “Yes it is. We actually just had a conversation with him (the superintendent). I know he’s working on the new policy and he said he would inform me of that after his discussion with the principals, but no, we’ve had confirmation that this morning, they were to report to work.”
Asked if she has an idea how many EAs actually showed up to work and didn’t have to, Murphy replied, “I’m unsure of that. I know that a lot of the principals had sent out emails to their staff, and to the CUPE staff, to stay home, and I know that some principals had advised their staff to go to work. I’m hearing mixed things as well because I’ve had my shop stewards calling saying that some schools are saying that we had to go to work and that was not our instructions were told by the superintendent was to have members report to work if their schools were opened.”
She said she’s hoping to receive an answer by day’s end on Monday what the policy will be governing what the expectations are of EAs during district-wide school closures. “We are in discussions with them right now to try and resolve all the issues and all the things that have come up.”
Asked if her members are registering “anger” over this, Murphy told the Now-Leader, “Oh yes. Everybody’s frustrated.”
Meantime, Tuesday is a new day and more snow is expected.
“We’ll be watching the weather overnight, for sure,” Strachan said.
Schools were open in neighbouring Delta but closed in Langley, and Kwantlen Polytechnic campuses were closed for Monday.