By Sherry Martell
SPRINGHILL - The Chignecto-Central Regional School Board anticipates schools will remain open if bus drivers, custodians and tradespeople in its employ walk off the job.
Board officials remain hopeful a settlement can be negotiated between the province and Canadian Union of Pubic Employees before the Jan. 18 strike deadline. However, should a labour disruption occur, the board is prepared to take all reasonable steps to maintain educational service delivery.
"Our first priority is delivering education in an environment that is healthy and safe for all students and staff," said board chairwoman Trudy Thompson.
"Our board members have also expressed great concern regarding the potential harm a labour disruption could cause for our high school students who are preparing to write exams at the end of January and the beginning of February."
If the strike proceeds, about 600 CUPE members employed by the board will join about 3,000 other school board support workers and about 4,000 health care support workers on the picket line.
"Although our board and local CUPE negotiating teams reached an agreement on local issues in November 2009, issues at the lead table, provincial level, are at an impasse," said Thompson.
"Unfortunately that affects the CUPE members in our board."
School bus service will not be available in the Cobequid, Celtic and Nova schools in Colchester, Pictou and Hants counties for the duration of the strike. Parents in these areas will be required to arrange transportation for their children to and from school.
Bus services for the Chignecto schools in Cumberland County will not be affected by a CUPE strike as buses in this area are provided through an external service.
Schools will only be open to students and the public from 20 minutes prior to the start of classes until 20 minutes after the end of classes. Parents and guardians are asked to keep this in mind when transporting children to and from school.
Throughout the strike, only minimal custodial duties will be maintained at board sites, including schools.
Basic cleaning services will be provided by management staff and volunteers.
"Because we have reduced cleaning services and with potential safety and security issues, it will mean all activities scheduled outside regular school hours will have to be cancelled, unfortunately," said Carolyn Pierce, communications spokeswoman for the board.
This will also include all school and community sports and events.
Only maintenance deemed a threat to the health and safety of students and staff will be addressed during the strike. The CCRSB and local CUPE representatives have made an agreement where CUPE will provide qualified trades people to handle emergency maintenance at all schools and sites.
"We greatly appreciate the patience and cooperation of parents, guardians and the community as we all work together to minimize the disruption to student education during this difficult and emotional time," said Thompson.
All CCRSB schools will distribute a letter to parents and guardians early next week.
By Sherry Martell