If there was ever an event to remind people of the importance of school custodians, a viral pandemic is right at the top of the list.
Marcel Marsolais, president of CUPE Local 409 (the union that represents school district support staff), spoke to the New Westminster school board at their meeting April 28. (Board meetings are now being conducted online, via Webex.)
Marsolais was on hand to make a presentation in recognition of the National Day of Mourning that honours workers killed and injured on the job. He also took the time to reiterate the importance of the school district’s support staff throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and to ask the school board to consider keeping daytime custodians in schools permanently.
“I want to recognize our front-line workers. All education workers are heroes in my mind and always have been, but in particular it’s our custodial staff, it’s our cleaning staff that have stepped up,” he said.
Marsolais noted custodial staff worked throughout the whole spring break and have learned all the appropriate protocols and procedures for cleaning during COVID-19, procedures he noted will likely continue to be updated as time goes on. He pointed out their work will be increasingly important as the district gradually opens the schools to more students and more employees start to report physically to work.
Marsolais said he’s happy to see that the school district has daytime custodians in place indefinitely to focus on cleaning and sterilization through the pandemic, and he’d like to see that continue beyond COVID-19.
He reminded board members that daytime custodians used to be a “common fixture” in schools.
“I think pretty well everybody on the board can remember their day custodians when we went to school, and there was a relationship there,” he said. “They’re not unsung heroes, but they’re unseen heroes, and that void is left in students’ school life where there was relationships, and there was appreciation for that important work that was done all day long.”
He said the work custodians are doing now, throughout the pandemic, is work that’s important all the time: continual checking and cleaning of bathrooms; continual cleaning of frequently used surfaces like door handles, railings and banisters; picking up garbage; cleaning up vomit and feces.
“You look at the definition of ‘custodian,’ and they’re there to care,” he said. “They were there prior to 2014, caring and ensuring that, when school and staff are in the classes, that things are looked after and that regular cleaning is done on a regular basis continually throughout the day.”
Marsolais noted New Westminster was one of the last districts to eliminate all but one of its day custodians in 2014 due to funding shortfalls, and he urged the board to lobby the province to make it possible for daytime custodians to remain permanently.
He asked the board to lead the way on the issue of daytime custodians as it has on issues such as free menstrual products in schools and the school nourishment program.
“Going forward, I would like to see a move to permanently place day custodians back into the schools, in each and every school,” he said, noting there could be a split with smaller schools. “Hundreds and hundreds of students in a school, they need that safety and security.”
Marsolais acknowledged that additional costs might have to be incurred to increase custodial staffing levels, reminding the board that custodians were cut because of funding shortfalls.
“Please keep that in mind as you go forward in your term and beyond,” he said.
School board chair Anita Ansari asked Marsolais to thank all the school district’s support staff for their “immense service” during the pandemic and offered her kudos to school custodians.
“At this time they are really part of our superstar team, allowing us to use the facilities that we do,” she said. “Every custodian that I see I want to hug.”