Albertans should not be waiting to find out how the province will keep students safe when classes resume next week, says the Alberta Teachers’ Association.
On Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney announced that a decision will be made later this week concerning the highly contagious COVID-19 variant Omicron and what it will mean for schools.
ATA president Jason Schilling said school starts for many students on Jan. 3.
“People have questions right now that they need answered,” Schilling said.
“There’s a lot of speculation. Will school be online? If that’s the case when will they let people know because people will be scrambling. No one will be prepared for that.”
He said last December, elementary students and staff took home the materials they needed to continue classes online after the Christmas break. Parents had time to make child care arrangements.
Chad Erickson, Red Deer Public Schools superintendent, said should there be a need for transitioning to at-home learning, or if additional health protocols are required, both staff, as well as the families served, would need advance notice and time to plan and prepare accordingly.
“Ultimately we need to have healthy learning environments with the right resources and supports in place to ensure our students and staff remain safe and well,” Erickson said in a statement.
He said for now, students and families continue to enjoy a much needed holiday.
“They have all been working very hard and doing amazing work throughout the school year.”
Kenney said Tuesday in a COVID-19 press conference that the province was discussing potentially delaying a return to classrooms for students.
“It’s clearly our strong preference to maintain as much as possible, in-classroom instruction. We think it’s very important for the mental and emotional well-being of children, and for their lifetime learning opportunities, to maintain that stability with in-classroom instruction to the greatest extent possible. That’s what we’ve sought to do in Alberta,” Kenney said.
“Suspending classroom instruction has always been one of the very last things that we’ve wanted to do. We also know from the data, that in-class transmission has not been a major source of community transmission in Alberta or elsewhere. Having said that, with the very rapid spread of Omicron, we can expect that the outbreak protocols that we’ve had to date will likely become obsolete very quickly and that many teachers and staff may be in isolation. We are looking very carefully at all of those factors,” Kenney said.
Schilling said the province has faced this situation before and should have been more proactive. It’s also quite frustrating that input from the ATA was not sought.
The ATA has been advocating to set mandatory standards across the province for masking, improved ventilation, ongoing testing, consistent reporting to parents and the public, and where possible, cohorting to limit student contact.
“Ventilation is a really big concern right now. We’ve heard from experts around the world who say that COVID is airborne so we need to look at the ventilation in our buildings. Government needs to provide the funds to allow schools to do the necessary funds to upgrade.”
He said a conversation around PPE is also necessary to determine if masks for students and staff wear should be upgraded and if the province should provide them.