Back to school preparations put staff and students at risk

A greater percentage of parents in Alberta have chosen online education than in any other province

Re: “Big Education gets a failing grade,” David Marsden, Opinion, Sept. 15.

I am writing in response to your ill-informed, poorly researched opinion piece.

In your column, you claim that “Big Education” (as you repeatedly and coyly refer to the leadership of the Alberta Teachers’ Association) has been going around spreading the myth that back to school conditions in Alberta have fallen short.

Are you aware that the government of Alberta has spent less money per student on back to school COVID prevention measures than any other province?

Did you realize that a greater percentage of parents in Alberta have chosen online education than in any other province?

Apparently, these parents agree with “Big Education” that the back to school plans simply weren’t up to snuff. I have heard concerns from school board leadership, in-school administration, school staff, parents and students about school safety during COVID.

Are all these groups overreacting as well?

Have you been in a classroom lately? The vast majority of classrooms in the province are simply too small for students in a normal sized class to distance themselves properly from each other.

Added to this, classes this year are particularly large. This is partly due to funding cuts by the UCP and partly because some classes were amalgamated when some students opted out of the in-person classes in favour of online learning.

At the high school level, in particular, classes of 30 and 40 plus are not uncommon.

Things are not necessarily easier for teachers who have opted to teach online. Some teachers are having to teach in-person as well as online classes.

Some, who are solely teaching online, have classes of over a hundred students.

Yes, it is true that workers in grocery stores have faced risks to their health, particularly at the beginning of the pandemic, when so much was unknown about the virus and safety procedures were not yet put into place.

If it was up to me, these workers would still be receiving the wage increases they were given at the height of the pandemic. They (the workers) are essential to our well-being and our economy and it is appalling to me that they are not better paid.

However, that seems to me to be a poor excuse for not making conditions in schools safer. Right now, the only other workers in Alberta who have had to deal with the type of crowded conditions that exist in Alberta classrooms are those who work in meat-packing plants, and we all know what has happened in some of those places.

Even in grocery stores, where workers deal with many customers each day, workers are not crammed into a small, poorly ventilated room with 30 other people for hours at a time.

You falsely claim that the ATA is blaming Adriana LaGrange, the education minister, because students may gather outside of school without wearing face masks and without physical distancing, or because students go into supermarkets, where COVID may be present.

The ATA has never said this and wouldn’t, because it makes no sense. Yes, students may congregate outside of school without practising COVID safety protocols. I’m sure all of us have seen this happening in our own communities.

Educators have no control over this. However, during school time, teachers are legally responsible for the protection and safety of students. They and the union that represents them must speak up when they see that school conditions are potentially unsafe.

Up until now, most COVID cases in schools have resulted from community transmission. This is bound to change as the school year progresses, given the crowded conditions in most Alberta classrooms. I believe that schools and school boards are doing everything they can to make schools safe for our students.

However, if a failing grade is to be awarded, it should go to the UCP government, and in particular, to Adriana LaGrange.

The government has not properly invested in back to school protocols, thereby putting students and school staff at risk.

Educators have every right to expect LaGrange, as education minister, to show up for press briefings and to do all that she can for the students of this province; in other words: to do her job.

It is not acceptable for her to be missing in action at this critical time.

You claim that you want “Big Education” to put the public good ahead of self-interest. Well, that is exactly what the ATA is doing when it speaks up about unsafe conditions in schools.

After all, when we talk about teachers’ working conditions, we are also referring to students’ learning conditions. Shouldn’t we all want them to be as safe as possible?

Jackie Moorhouse is a retired teacher and substitute teacher from Innisfail.

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