Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

September 11, 2020 - Victoria, Canada - Dean Coates, a longtime custodian, out the front of Claremont Secondary School in Victoria, British Columbia. (Credit Image: James MacDonald)

James MacDonald/The Globe and Mail

They sweep up mud, paper and orange peels. They mop up when a kid vomits or has a nosebleed. They scrub toilets, sinks and walls.

They are school custodians, and this fall they have an added responsibility: helping to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19.

“We’re certainly going to have more duties,” said Dean Coates, a custodian with the Saanich School District on Vancouver Island.

Story continues below advertisement

“We’re getting a lot more recognition for the work we do, which is good – but we are getting a lot more duties and I have talked to people in other districts who are more stressed out because they don’t have the staffing to do it.”

When students returned to school in British Columbia this month, they did so under provincial government guidelines that include putting students into groups, or cohorts, use of masks in high-traffic areas and added cleaning, especially of frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs. On Sept. 17, the BC Teachers' Federation – which raised concerns about the plan immediately after it was released in late July – filed an application with the Labour Relations Board, saying that since school started, it has heard from many members that protection promised in the spring and summer were not on offer.

In its LRB application, the BCTF focused primarily on class size and remote learning options, saying the lack of provincial direction had resulted in “vastly different polices and practices across the province, resulting in significant inequities for students and staff.”

There are also differences in districts' custodial agreements, which mean some districts may face more of a challenge in meeting cleaning guidelines.

Saanich, for example, has maintained a relatively generous custodian-to-space ratio over the past decade or so even as many other districts were cutting back on custodial costs as a result of budget pressures, said Mr. Coates, who is also president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 41, which represents custodians and other support staff in the Saanich district.

That ratio has helped him and other cleaning staff keep on top of COVID-19 guidelines, he said.

“It is nice to feel at the end of the day that your work ... was able to meet the [B.C. Centre of Disease Control Guidelines],” Mr. Coates said in a text, adding that the district helped by buying an electrostatic sprayer and hiring additional custodial staff.

Story continues below advertisement

When the province announced its back-to-school plan on July 29, it said it would provide $45.6-million to help schools get ready for the coming school year, with $23-million of that going to to “more staff and staff time” for cleaning schools.

(The funds are in addition to the province’s overall education budget, which was $6.6-billion in 2019.)

The federal government said on Aug. 26 it would make up to $2-billion available to provinces for school expenses, with $242-million of that going to B.C.

B.C. Minister of Education Rob Fleming subsequently said individual school districts would have control over how those federal funds will be spent.

Saanich was in relatively good shape to implement the new guidelines because its custodial runs – the amount of space a custodian is expected to clean in a given time, as spelled out in a union contract – are lower than the provincial average, Saanich superintendent Dave Eberwein said.

“Even with that, we are hiring additional custodial staff,” Mr. Eberwein said.

Story continues below advertisement

Under the restart plan, general school cleaning is to happen once a day and frequently touched surfaces are to be cleaned at least twice every 24 hours, including once during the school day. For custodians, that means wielding spray bottles to clean banisters, doorknobs and walls from nearly the ground up, especially in elementary schools.

Marcel Marsolais is a former custodian and current president of CUPE Local 409, which represents support staff in the New Westminster school district in the Lower Mainland.

“On a provincial scale, we are quite satisfied with the government’s approach to this,” Mr. Marsolais said, adding that many districts have reinstated day custodians – who are on shift while children are in class – after largely eliminating that role over the past decade or so.

He hopes the renewed emphasis on cleaning marks a shift toward placing greater value on custodial staff and understanding their role in preventing infection.

“Now they’re our heroes – they’ve always been my heroes,” said Mr. Marsolais, who started in the school system decades ago as a day custodian.

“You were there to build relationships. It’s part of the education for students, to know that – guess, what, it’s just like at home with your kids. The mess just doesn’t magically get cleaned up every day.”

Story continues below advertisement

We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.

Coronavirus information
Coronavirus information
The Zero Canada Project provides resources to help you manage your health, your finances and your family life as Canada reopens.
Visit the hub

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies