Posted on Aug 17, 2020


EDMONTON - Scores of Alberta teachers and educational assistants have come forward to the NDP Opposition to say they’re ready and willing to help make schools safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, but lack of funding from Education Minister Adriana LaGrange has left them on the sidelines.

“Alberta students and families understand that schools need to spread out and staff up to keep everyone safe,” said Sarah Hoffman, NDP Opposition Critic for Education. “The minister claims it’s impossible to hire enough staff, but the truth is she hasn’t even rehired the staff our schools had earlier this year.” 

Only days after promising to keep the education system intact through the pandemic, LaGrange fired more than 20,000 education workers on March 28, including educational assistants who were supporting students with complex needs. She promised they would all be rehired but that has proven to be a lie.

Michelle LaFrance, is an educational assistant in Blackfalds who was working for Red Catholic Schools, the district LaGrange used to be the chair of. She was laid off in the spring as one of the more than 20,000.

“The work I was doing at the time was critical,” LaFrance said. “I was all over the place, working with students in grades 4, 5 and 7. I was helping with literacy for students that were often multiple grade levels behind. It was so hard to be laid off. We were promised that we would be rehired for the fall. That’s simply not true. Currently, I am on the sublist. I do not have a full-time position. This is very worrisome as there is no guarantee of hours of work, benefits or anything.  

And that’s not to mention how many different schools, classrooms and kids I will be in contact with. The UCP not capping the class size to 15 kids is despicable. The government must do better for our students. There were five educational assistants at my school laid off alone. We were promised we would be rehired and in my case that hasn’t happened. We could help to reduce class sizes and improve education.”

Gillis Bell is an educational assistant who was working for Edmonton Catholic before she was one of the more than 20,000 Albertans LaGrange laid off, and hasn’t been rehired.

“I was hired to help students in kindergarten, grade 1 and grade 2 with their mathematics and literacy goals,” Bell said. “Once the pandemic began and schools were closed, I didn’t stop working as the UCP suggested. It was certainly challenging but I continued to engage with smaller groups of students online. I am available and willing to work this fall in an Alberta school. The UCP claiming that things will operate near normal this fall proves they clearly don’t know what they’re talking about and haven’t been in the classroom.”

Kendra Mills is a teacher with seven years of experience in Cold Lake, but can’t find work in the Edmonton area.

“To be blunt, the school boards here don’t have any funding to hire me. I looked and looked and found nothing,” Mills said. “I am a capable and experienced teacher who was willing to help in this very difficult time this fall. Sadly, because I couldn’t find a job, I am now going back to school. My husband and I will eventually be moving out of Alberta to a province where the government values teachers and jobs in the teaching profession are reliable. This is heartbreaking to me. We love Alberta and are ready and able to help.”

Tara Noseworthy, is a teacher in the Cold Lake area who put her name forward as a substitute when she couldn’t find a full-time position.

“I have to tell you I am immensely worried about substituting,” Noseworthy said “I would be walking into classrooms where the teacher is unable to work because they have symptoms consistent with COVID-19. As a substitute, I have no sick pay, no health benefits. And I would be walking into a classroom that I don’t believe is safe and likely without knowing the full extent of my potential exposure to COVID-19. This government is ignoring these concerns. They have done nothing to hire more teachers. There are qualified educators out there like myself that are willing to come in and help. We could help with lowering class sizes.”

The NDP Official Opposition has presented the government with a detailed plan for re-opening, Safe Schools, Successful Students. The plan contains 15 recommendations to protect students, families, staff and communities.

“Safety must be the top priority,” Hoffman said. “While these 15 measures come with significant costs, the cost of doing nothing will be greater.”