Alberta schools will reopen with a near-normal in-class education but with no additional funding support from the province for a safe re-entry plan.
In a press conference Tuesday, Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced that students will be returning to in-class education for the 2020-21 school year.
An educational re-entry toolkit will be provided to school boards, parents and students to prepare stakeholders for the upcoming year.
Under Scenario 1, schools will implement a number of public health measures, which include frequent cleaning of surfaces, placing hand sanitizers at school entrances and classrooms, grouping students in cohorts, and planning the school day to allow for physical distancing, which could include staggering start times for classes, recesses and lunches, the provincial release stated.
Additional public health measures may be established prior to September on the advice of the chief medical officer of health in consultation with the education system.
Further, students, staff, visitors, will have to fill out a self-screening questionnaire daily to determine if they can enter the school.
School boards will be able to tap reserve funds to cover additional health and safety costs, provincial release said.
No additional funding for schools
On July 14, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange sent a letter to Alberta Teachers. She outlined that no additional funding will be sent to support schools reopening safely.
“School authorities have the flexibility to cover, as needed, the cost of hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, and non-medical masks,” she wrote in the letter.
This announcement means that services like additional cleaning, purchasing personal protective equipment, and ensuring health and social distancing procedures would fall to schools and teachers.
Within the letter, LaGrange goes on to say “While teachers are not expected to act as custodial staff,” while citing the Occupational Health and Safety Act – Part 1 Section 5
“They are expected, just as every worker is, to take responsible care to protect the health and safety of the worker and of any other persons at or near the vicinity of the worksite while the worker is working.”
‘rock and a hard place’: ATA
Alberta Teachers’ Association President Jason Schilling said teachers are frustrated that any provincial reentry scenario doesn’t come with additional funding. The ATA is worried teachers will be overburdened.
Schilling said it’s unfair to download cleaning responsibilities to teachers when they should be spending time on education.
“I know that there’s a reasonable expectation that I might wipe off my desk, but it’s not my job to wipe off every desk in the classroom. Nor is it my job to make sure that the hallways are cleaned appropriately or water fountains, doorknobs and things like that,” he said.
“Then we get teachers placed in this spot where they’re between a rock and a hard place where they have schools that are opening but are feeling unsafe themselves. That’s not a position I think the government should be putting anybody in this province in.”
NDP MLA Sarah Hoffman took issue with the Minister’s approach
In a NDP caucus live steam on Monday, NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman took aim at Minister LaGrange’s decision to not supply additional funding for school boards as schools reopen.
She outlined that class size issues, transportation worries and teaching staff layoffs compound the public health issues.
“We need more teachers next year, not fewer,” she said.
“What we need are more supports for students with special needs and we know that (educational assistants) aren’t being hired back at the same rate the minister promised they would.”
Hoffman said that any plan to restart the economy won’t work without supporting Alberta schools.
“I think that no economic recovery plan will work without making sure that kids are safe and that parents can go to work safely and that the staff who are serving these kids will be protected as well,” she said.