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Halton District School Board education director Stuart Miller advised parents of the change in a letter sent Friday, saying school office and secretarial staff will take province-wide job actions that include no longer monitoring the school-entry buzzers.
“As a parent, it’s a huge red flag and a big concern given all the lunatics in the world,” said Jen Quinlan, whose two children will stay home from their Halton school throughout the policy change. “I feel like they are using our children as bait to get what they want.”
Miller said entryway cameras will still be used and office staff will monitor visitors.
“These sanctions will impact our elementary schools significantly. In our elementary schools, the front door will need to remain unlocked during the school day as secretarial staff are no longer able to unlock the door for visitors.”
In 2012, former premier Dalton McGuinty pledged $ 10 million for front-door security at as part of a Safe Welcome Program, after the tragic shooting of 20 children and six staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
But the province isn’t showing support staff “the respect they deserve,” said Jo Dean, an executive officer with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Association, which represents support staff in Halton schools — unlike other boards in the GTA, where they’re represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
“These buzzers can go 100 times a day, interrupting staff from their tasks. These are serious tasks that should be supported properly and this is one of the many things that isn’t thought through properly from the ministry.”
Dean said she was aware the Halton District School Board had opted for the open-door policy and that school boards across Ontario were reacting in different ways.
Instead, the union has instructed secretaries not to multi-task when the buzzer rings: “Stop what you are doing when answering the door buzzer, to ensure student safety.” If they can’t get everything done during regular hours with all the interruptions, they are to file for overtime.
“We had a town hall meeting this week where the question of doors came up, and we were quite clear that our members are to buzz people in, because student safety is our uppermost concern,” said CUPE spokesperson Mario Emond.
Some boards, such as theToronto District School Board and the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board, have alerted families there may be some delays in office services such as answering the phone, and asked their patience.
Paul Elliott, provincial president of OSSTF, said the sanctions in Halton shouldn’t have come as a surprise to schools after talks “came to an impasse” a week ago.
“I would expect boards to put contingency plans in place,” said Elliot, adding that the province was given notice of the sanctions Wednesday. “I don’t think it should be a shock to them that we are taking bargaining action.”
Staff will no longer call students to the office and supervise students sent to the office; manage cash or cheques; assist with student registration; attend school council meetings; or assist with school communications, such as newsletters, blogs, website updates and “tweets”.
The changes mean it will no longer be business as usual in Halton elementary schools, said Miller.
With files from Louise Brown