Posted on Apr 14, 2021


EDMONTON - School districts across Alberta begged the Jason Kenney government to give them enough resources to keep students safe, and raised serious concerns about the inadequate school re-entry plan, new documents reveal.


“Schools districts knew all along that the Kenney government was setting up students, staff and families for failure by refusing to staff up and spread out our schools,” said Sarah Hoffman, Alberta NDP Education Critic. “In less than three months, tens of thousands of Albertans were forced into isolation and all students in Grade 7 to 12 across the province were forced out of their classrooms.”  


A Freedom of Information request filed by the  NDP Caucus seeking “all correspondence, letters and emails sent to the Office of the Minister from school boards and superintendents about the Government of Alberta's K-12 school re-entry plan.” was returned from Minister Adriana LaGrange’s office with a denial that these records existed. 


This denial prompted an investigation by the Information and Privacy Commissioner, which is still ongoing. Nine months later, it turns out there are hundreds of pages of records.


“It’s obvious why LaGrange didn’t want Albertans to see the feedback she got from school districts across the province,” Hoffman said. “This correspondence raises many serious issues that she failed to address in her inadequate re-entry plan, including staffing, social distancing, PPE, testing, and mental health.”


Included in the documents released were concerns about: 


The ability for schools to keep everyone safe:


  • Palliser School Division: “We believe it will be necessary to have robust and plentiful COVID19 testing available. This will allow us to identify students or staff who may have COVID19 and respond quickly and appropriately. As well, for students and staff who fall ill, if they can access testing in a timely manner, they will be able to return to school earlier if they don’t have COVID19.”


  • Living Waters Catholic Schools: “We have concerns about the ability of school boards to meet the requirement of physical distancing.”


  • Edmonton Public Schools: “Initial rough calculations based on 2 metre social distancing with all students attending daily would see our Division short 20,000+ student spaces based on traditional timetabling and model of delivery, this shortfall does not look equal across all schools, (some schools can accommodate the majority of their students, while other schools would only be able to accommodate 60% of their students).”


  • Medicine Hat Catholic: “We have serious reservations of sending our students into an environment which involves social distancing, PPE, split classes and the like. We don’t believe that represents a “safe environment”.


  • Calgary Catholic School District: “Consideration must also be given to School Boards that have infrastructure limitations due to schools being beyond the 85% utilization capacity.”


  • Peace Wapiti Public School Division: “Social Distancing cannot be achieved with transportation or our classroom space, therefore, returning to the current school year should not be entertained.”


  • St. Albert Public Schools: “Our current infrastructure does not allow for physical distancing in any of our facilities.”


The financial resources of school boards to address pandemic needs:


  • Black Gold School Division: “Talk of tripling up on bussing seems extremely challenging (and expensive) to pursue. Where do the dollars come from? (Not to mention additional buses, drivers, training etc).”


  • Lakeland Catholic School Division: “We anticipate increased costs due to technology, transportation, sanitation, staff sick leave, equipment, increased costs for food services (closed campuses) or modification to nutrition services yet there is no acknowledgement or commitment from government for additional funding.” and “We do not have the funding, resources, and manpower to meet discussion point 8” (Discussion point #8 refers to PPE/Sanitation/Hygiene).


  • Golden Hills School Division: “Cuts made in our budget and those of partner organizations were cause for concern pre pandemic. Now with the anticipated needs associated with recent events we will require more financial support to support our staff and students.”


  • High Prairie School Division: “Custodians will need to spend more time at schools during the day and will need to have training to deal with the specific cleaning required. Will there be compensation and training for the custodians?” 


  • St. Albert Public Schools: “We are concerned about the lack of clarity on funding for Scenarios 1 and 2, particularly in the areas of additional cleaning, PPE, transportation and mental health supports. Additional funding for mental health supports is the number one priority for the board.”  


“Instead of listening to the needs of Albertans who actually work in schools, LaGrange fired 20,000 of them with a Tweet in March,” said Hoffman. “It’s clear that she knew her re-entry plan was inadequate but went ahead with it anyway. The result was the hardest school year ever for students, staff and families, especially those supporting students with complex needs.


“I consulted with thousands of Albertans to develop the recommendations in our Safe Schools, Successful Students report. But once again, the Jason Kenney government refused to listen to anyone and pushed ahead with their failed plan.”