Posted on Dec 18, 2020
NDP PROPOSES STEPS TO AVOID MASS ISOLATION AND SCHOOL CLOSURES IN 2021
EDMONTON - Alberta’s NDP Official Opposition is presenting the UCP government with concrete actions that will help keep students safe and schools open in 2021. These four recommendations are in addition to the Safe Schools, Successful Students plan presented to the government in July.
“The failure of Premier Jason Kenney and Education Minister Adriana LaGrange to prepare for the second wave forced the closure of junior high and high schools after 12 weeks of classes, and the avoidable isolation of tens of thousands of Albertans,” said Sarah Hoffman, NDP Opposition Critic for Education. “It is highly likely Alberta’s case numbers will be significantly higher in January than they were in September. To keep students learning safely in schools in 2021, the UCP government must learn from its mistakes.”
The Safe Schools, Successful Students addendum includes four new recommendations.
- Dedicated School Contact Tracing Team: Hire 160 full-time equivalent positions to conduct contact tracing exclusively for schools, to ensure that exposed staff and students can be contacted immediately and isolated to keep schools safe and open.
- Hire Additional Educational Staff: Schools should get funding to hire additional qualified teachers and educational assistants who are willing to work in Alberta schools. Increased infection rates and mandatory isolation have dramatically increased demand for educational staff, but districts do not have sufficient resources to hire them. This results in either larger or cancelled classes, and additional disruptions to student learning. We are proposing a five per cent increase to the base instructional grant for the remainder of the school year.
- Provide rapid testing for symptomatic staff: The Government of Alberta has 100,000 rapid test kits which have recently passed clinical trials. While priority use must be for the most vulnerable Albertans in acute care and continuing care, any additional capacity should be made available to school districts experiencing staffing pressures.
- Create the Alberta Learn from Home Fund: Parents have contacted us raising concerns about their inability to secure the additional supports for remote home learning. Other jurisdictions, including Ontario, have created a program to offset some of the related family expenses. Alberta families who have spent at least two months learning from home during the 2020-2021 school year would receive $500 per student, and $750 per student with special needs.
Natasha Chiam and her husband kept their two children home from their Edmonton school starting in September after learning that their daughter’s class would have 34 students.
“It was a hard decision,” Chiam said. “The kids want to go to school and be cool and hang with their friends. And it hasn’t been easy. They have been doing well academically but it’s hard to stare at a screen for six hours. It’s hard to not feel connected to a school community.
“I would love to send them if things are looking good. But I don’t want to throw them into a situation where they get sent right back home. I’m not confident in the way things are looking right now. We are still not spreading out the kids. My kids have friends who have been sent home two times. It all seems very backward, and it’s led to a very disjointed learning environment.”
The Opposition estimates the cost of fully implementing these four measures is $284.7 million.
“There is light at the end of the tunnel, but there are many more difficult months ahead,” Hoffman said. “The decisions the government takes this December are critical. The goal must be safe learning experiences for students, staff, families and communities.”