Alberta government expects safe return to in-class learning next week
Teachers 'exhausted' from stress of trying to mitigate spread: ATA
The Alberta government says students and teachers should expect a safe return to the classroom next week.
Nicole Sparrow, press secretary for Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, said in a statement Tuesday that the ministry is "committed to a safe return to in-person learning."
"We will continue to monitor the situation and make adjustments as needed. We recognize the importance of resuming in-person learning as soon as it is possible. We are confident students will return back to their classrooms to finish the school year," the statement says.
Alberta K-12 students are set to return to in-class instruction on Tuesday. Most students in the province moved to temporary online instruction May 7, although some students in Edmonton, Calgary and Fort McMurray were already learning from home.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, said in a news conference Tuesday schools have not been a significant driver in spreading COVID-19.
Hinshaw said the decision to move children online was not a public health decision, it was an operational decision. So many staff were isolating, and school divisions had trouble finding enough staff to operate schools properly.
"The decision to bring children back, again, was a decision based on educational considerations. I don't believe there to be a public health risk in bringing children back to school," she said.
Hinshaw said she had no concern about sending her own children back to class next week.
In a Facebook live Q&A on Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney said he anticipates students will be returning "in almost all parts of the province next week."
"There are one or two regions where COVID is continuing to grow right now, including amongst younger people, so there may be one or two areas where we have to be a bit cautious," Kenney said.
Kenney added that he expects LaGrange will provide an update on Wednesday.
Opposition questions reopening plan
NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman said if students are indeed going back to clas on Tuesday, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange should tell Albertans what her ministry will do differently so that another shutdown doesn't happen.
"For most teachers, this has been the toughest year of their professional career," she said.
Hoffman said she wants the ministry to provide more funding so more teachers, including new graduates, can be hired.
"[We] have strongly advocated that additional funding of $30 million be immediately given to boards to help them hire substitute teachers to support those who are forced to quarantine or who become ill," she said.
Hoffman also is pushing for an in-school vaccination program.
Students need to be better protected, ATA says
The Alberta Teachers' Association (ATA) has also raised concerns about a return to the classroom. ATA president Jason Schilling said the province needs to change its plans to make sure students are safe and schools don't have to close again.
"Students, staff and schools need to be better protected from the risks associated with COVID-19. We are concerned that schools will reopen on May 25 using the exact same strategy that has already failed twice to keep schools safe and open," Schilling said in a statement.
The statement goes on to say that teachers are "exhausted" trying to mitigate spread and navigate the switch from in-person to online learning.
With files from Travis McEwan