The Alberta NDP education critic says the UCP government’s plan to bring students back to school this fall is not taking the concerns of parents and staff seriously.
“I think they need to put some money into ensuring a safe relaunch so that everyone can be safe and families can drop their kids off at school with confidence that it’s going to go well,” Sarah Hoffman told the Red Deer Advocate on Friday afternoon.
Earlier this week, the provincial government announced students will return to the classroom in the upcoming school year, with health measures in place.
On Thursday, the NDP released a 15-point recommendation plan for students returning to school.
Some of these points include setting a provincewide cap of 15 students per classroom, reversing cuts to student support and rehiring the 20,000-plus educational support staff laid off at the outset of the pandemic, and developing comprehensive and consistent health and safety protocols for schools.
“We want to support learning development, but to make that happen in an environment that’s safe for the kids, and staff that work with them, needs to be the priority,” said Hoffman.
“I hope (Education Minister Adriana LaGrange) does reflect on (the NDP’s recommendations), I hope (Premier Jason Kenney) reflects on them, and that they take concrete steps to improve the safety and well-being of everyone this fall.”
The NDP’s alternative relaunch plan for Alberta schools would cost $1 billion. Hoffman said there should be money to do this, as “there was money to do things like invest in an energy war room, there was money to give corporations a $4.7-billion gift.
“We think our kids are worth it. We think that when they come home from school and want to give their grandparents a hug, they should be able to do that without fear they’re going to make each other sick,” said Hoffman.
Hoffman said “it doesn’t seem like” the provincial government is taking parents’ and teachers’ health and safety concerns seriously.
“When they announced they were going to reopen and it was based on examples of other places that have reopened, they missed the very big piece, which is that when they had reopened, including Calgary Catholic for summer school, they kept class sizes at 15.
“To say they didn’t have outbreaks in schools that were capped at 15, and therefore, we can cram 30 to 40 kids in a classroom and it will be fine, I don’t think that reflects what we’ve seen in other jurisdictions,” she said.
The provincial government has developed a re-entry toolkit to prepare parents and students for what to expect in the new year.
School precautions include frequent cleaning, keeping students in the same groups where possible, planning the school day to allow for physical distancing and staying home when sick.