Posted on Jul 28, 2020


EDMONTON --  Pediatricians and school health specialists are describing the plan put forward by Jason Kenney and the UCP to reopen schools during the COVID-19 pandemic as dangerous and calling on the Government to offer more support in advance of classes resuming in September.

"This UCP plan as it stands is essentially a large, human-scale experiment without safety nets to see what will happen to kids, their teachers and their respective families,” said Dr. Tehseen Ladha, a pediatrician with a Master in Public Health

She said any notion by the UCP Government that children are unlikely to be infected by the virus is highly questionable, pointing to a recent study out of South Korea that found children over the age of nine spread COVID-19 at a rate similar to adults. Ladha also noted that Florida has seen a spike of 23 per cent in COVID-19-related hospitalizations involving children.

"First and foremost, we must cap class sizes. That is obvious, given what we know about COVID-19," Ladha said. "Parents should not have to decide between school and safety."

The NDP Opposition put forward a 15-point, $1-billion plan last week to reopen schools as safely as possible during the pandemic.

“It may seem like a lot of money, but how do you put a price on the safety of hundreds of thousands of students, teachers and school staff?” Ladha questioned. “And how can this Government not put funding behind a proper school reopening plan given that they have found billions to fund other things?”

The UCP Government has mocked the NDP’s plan, which also calls for $220 million for personal protective equipment for students, as well as a rehiring of the 20,000 educational assistants fired by the UCP at the onset of the pandemic.

“Our plan is ambitious and will take a lot of work by this Government,” said Sarah Hoffman, NDP Education Critic. “We’re not saying physical distancing will only be achieved by hiring more teachers. We have to get creative, we need more adults to help keep students safe and we need to approach municipal partners to secure additional space for classrooms that’s currently unused during the pandemic.”

“The point is this Government must step up and do everything within their power to reopen our schools safely.”

Dr. Natalie Forbes, a pediatrician based out of Calgary, also noted that mental health supports are critical. She noted the UCP cut funding for Regional Collaborative Service Delivery (RCSD), which reduced access to therapists, speech pathologists and other health supports for students.

“The cuts to RCSD were a problem prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and I believe that problem will only get worse now,” Forbes said, adding she has families asking her for advice on what to do this fall.

“I really don’t know what to say,” Forbes said. “Medically, I can’t do anything. This is a very difficult situation for Alberta families and I think we need more supports in place for school reopening and more clarity for parents, teachers and school staff before we can reopen safely.”

Dr. Kim Kelly worked for five years in family medicine and was a comprehensive school health specialist. She said she worries the Government hasn’t thought properly about how a school functions and the issues that arise when attempting to limit high-touch areas. 

“There is a lack of sinks, a lack for physical space,” Kelly said. “Much more work must be done. Perhaps it involves bringing in portable sinks. More thinking needs to be done on how to create smaller school cohorts where we limit the number of peers a student comes into contact with.”

“There is no such thing as a zero-risk scenario when reopening schools. There will always be some risk. But the UCP plan, in my opinion, is the government putting its head in the sand and not understanding the real risks.”

NDP Health Critic David Shepherd said clearly the UCP haven’t consulted with experts or the general public about what a safe reopening of Alberta’s schools looks like and the supports required to make it a reality.

“These medical professionals are speaking out in hopes of spurring change, of convincing this Government to take the safety of 740,000 students and tens of thousands of staff seriously,” Shepherd said. “We still have a month until classes resume. There is time to improve on the situation the UCP has put themselves in. I know the doctors speaking out today and our NDP Opposition are ready and willing to help however we can but this Government needs to first accept that their plan is a massive failure that puts so many people at risk”