Edmonton

Diverse group of Albertans calls on Ottawa to directly fund school COVID-19 protection

Two dozen medical doctors, scientists, union members and university professors sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking the federal government to sidestep the province and directly fund COVID-19 classroom protection.

Authors of letter say they’ve lost confidence in Kenney government

Some Albertans are concerned about next month's return to school with the number of active COVID-19 cases and the delta variant in the province. (CBC)

Two dozen medical doctors, scientists, union members and university professors in Alberta sent a two-page letter that asks Ottawa to sidestep the provincial government and directly fund provincial classrooms to make them safer from COVID-19 transmission.

But the urgent appeal, made directly to the prime minister from Albertans concerned about children's return to school next month, does not seem like it will result in any dramatic change. 

"Many of us are very concerned that there's going to be a lot of transmission among children as they return to classrooms, particularly with this very infectious delta variant," one of the authors, PhD candidate Conor Ruzycki, told CBC News. "I think we're getting signals of this happening down in the United States." 

The letter asks for $65 million to provide a HEPA filtration unit in every elementary classroom and $9.6 million to provide KN95-type masks to children in kindergarten to grade six. Another $6 million is requested to equip all classrooms with CO2 monitors. 

"We have lost all confidence that the provincial government will do the right thing to protect Albertans," the letter states. "The Alberta government is removing all health measures including testing, tracing and mandatory isolation policies, and is failing to provide even basic protection for vulnerable children."

The authors suggest the Alberta government has failed to pass along federal funding that would have made classrooms safer during the pandemic. 

A provincial spokesperson called that a false claim. 

"Every dollar of funding received through the Safe Return to Class Fund was immediately allocated to school authorities once it was received from the federal government," education press secretary Nicole Sparrow wrote, noting that Ottawa transferred $262 million to Alberta under that program. 

"We are confident that all school authorities have been provided the supports they need to provide a safe, world-class education to their students."

She said an "additional guidance document" is being finalized for release in mid-August to support the September return to school. 

The response from the federal government did not directly address the request to bypass Kenney's government and fund school boards directly. 

"Provinces and territories had the flexibility to spend funding according to their priorities," federal government spokesperson Jean-Sebastien Comeau wrote.

He said Ottawa would continue working with provincial and territorial governments along with Indigenous partners "to help Canadians get through the COVID-19 pandemic." 

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