ATA president to meet with Alberta education minister about teachers' concerns with school re-entry

The Alberta Teachers’ Association and the province’s education minister will meet on Wednesday to discuss teachers’ concerns with a re-entry plan for schools this fall.

The two sides plan to meet on Wednesday

Jason Schilling is president of the Alberta Teachers' Association. ((Jordan Mesiatowsky/CBC))

The Alberta Teachers' Association and the province's education minister will meet on Wednesday to discuss teachers' concerns with a re-entry plan for schools this fall.

ATA president Jason Schilling will meet with Adriana LaGrange, Alberta's education minister, next week to discuss serious problems teachers have about in-person classes resuming during the COVID-19 pandemic. Schilling said teachers were worried about large class sizes, the difficulty of physical distancing, COVID-19 testing for teachers and whether school boards would receive enough funding.

"We have a class size issue in Alberta. We had one, it's well documented, before the pandemic," Schilling said, noting that some classes in Alberta have as many as 30 or 40 students.

"They're just concerned about how they are supposed to make the health protocols in their classrooms that are too large."

Teachers feel like their voices haven't been listened to as key education stakeholders, Schilling said.

The two sides spoke this morning and accepted a meeting for Wednesday, said Kassandra Kitz, a spokesperson for the Alberta government.

Kitz said the re-entry plan was developed from the advice of Alberta's chief medical officer of health, while consulting teachers, school authorities, superintendents and school boards.

"Our number one priority is to ensure a safe and successful return to school for both our staff and students, and we will continue working with the education system and the Chief Medical Officer of Health to ensure that happens," Kitz said in an email on Saturday.

The meeting comes after delegates from the floor of the 2020 Annual Representative Assembly moved an emergent motion of non-confidence in LaGrange. The motion was ultimately referred to the ATA's executive council after debate that continued into early Saturday morning.

Schilling said teachers don't have confidence in the minister or her re-entry plan. The ATA laid out seven priorities they have for a safe re-entry to schools this fall. They include a plan to respond to community spread of COVID-19, improving ventilation in schools, smaller classes, more steps to protect students at high-risk of contracting the disease, and funding for more caretaking staff, cleaning supplies and PPE.

"(Teachers) expressed dissatisfaction and anger quite honestly about the re-entry plan," Schilling said, adding that they were also upset about the province's curriculum review.

"They definitely feel disrespected and undervalued, so that's where a lot of this is coming from."

The priorities also include requesting a multi-sector working group that includes teachers, parents, superintendents, public health officials, Alberta Education and school trustees to advise on the re-entry plan and operating standards amid COVID-19.

Schilling said another priority is creating provincial and local COVID-19 response teams and plans. He said they want an evaluation process to be able to discuss what's working and not working during the school year.