Alberta teachers fear the worst when schools reopen next week.
On Wednesday, the province announced students will return to in-person learning on Monday. Shipments of rapid tests and medical-grade masks will start this week, and all schools will have their initial shipments by the end of next week.
Jason Schilling, Alberta Teachers’ Association president, said not having masks and tests available until possibly the end of next week is unacceptable with such a high rate of COVID-19 spread in the community.
“We know from past experience and previous waves, community spread is often echoed within our school communities as well. So we’re going to start the school week with some schools having the masks and rapid tests and some not having it. It’s asinine to me,” Schilling said.
“The premier says that they’re doing everything they can to keep kids in school. That’s simply not true. Test kits, upgraded medical masking with a universal mandate across the province in all grades, strict and clear isolation requirements, and HEPA filtration should be the bare minimum.”
“We should have learned from the mistakes of the past. I fear, along with many of my colleagues, that we’ll see schools have to move online and that is going to be inevitable.”
The province said that school authorities will continue to have the flexibility to shift a class, or an individual grade, to short-term at-home learning if needed to address operational challenges at a school. Decisions on shifting entire schools, or school authorities to at-home learning, will continue to be made by the province, with input from school authorities.
Schilling said teachers have a wealth of experience working in the pandemic. They know what works and what doesn’t.
He was hoping to see something better than a watch and wait approach.
“I’ve seen this movie before and I didn’t like the ending.
“If prioritizing in-person learning is important to the government, then you have to prioritize making schools as safe as possible,” Schilling said.
Support Our Students Alberta is frustrated that the province did not use the extra week gained by delaying classes to enhance safety in schools.
“There were many tools we advocated for to better protect schools against Omicron but none of them were implemented meaningful by the province. Without preventing mass spread in schools through funding ventilation, adequate PPE and lowering community cases, both the sustainability of in-person learning and the health of students will be imminently jeopardized once schools open,” said Support Our Students in a statement.
NDP Education Critic Sarah Hoffman called the measures announced by Education Minister Adriana LaGrange completely inadequate.
“I heard her say she’s doing everything she can to keep schools safe and that is a bare-faced lie,” Hoffman said in a statement.
“No HEPA filters. No N95 masks. No carbon dioxide monitors. No contact tracing… No funding for the inevitable demand for additional staff. The UCP plan is setting schools up to close.
“It’s truly bizarre to hear (chief medical officer of health) Dr. (Deena) Hinshaw tell Albertans that community transmission has never been higher at any point and that we must all reduce our daily contacts and then see the UCP send kids back to school without any of the protection that other Canadian students are receiving.”