Posted on Aug 5, 2020


EDMONTON --  Alberta’s NDP Official Opposition is joining with parents of students with learning disabilities to call for supports to protect them and their specific learning needs as schools are due to reopen during the global COVID-19 pandemic this fall.

This includes the rehiring of 20,000 educational staff the UCP fired in the spring, and reversing funding cuts to programs for children with disabilities. 

Calgary mother Tiffaney Hill lost her job in the spring, during the height of the pandemic. She is currently working three jobs to make ends meet and is deeply concerned about sending her son Riley to school this fall.

Riley suffers from extreme sensory sensitivity and an anxiety disorder. His class is due to have 30 students this fall, ten who have learning disabilities.

I have seen nothing to address Riley’s situation from the Government,” Hill said. “In fact, we’ve actually gone backwards as they cut the number of educational assistants in our schools. I don’t see how Riley will be able to physically distance in a classroom like his and he will struggle to comprehend what is happening. His sensory issues make it impossible for him to wear a mask without direct 1-on-1 supervision.

“If I choose to keep Riley home from school because of the many fears I have my only option for childcare is my mother, Riley’s grandmother. However, she was just diagnosed with ovarian cancer, so this is a lot to ask of her. I also worry about Riley being around all the other students at his school and then potentially bringing COVID-19 home to her.”

NDP Education Critic Sarah Hoffman said Hill’s situation is one of hundreds she has received from parents of students who need additional supports to thrive in a classroom setting.

“The first thing the Government should do is rehire the 20,000 educational assistants that were inexplicably fired at the onset of the pandemic,” Hoffman said. “Those staff were doing incredibly important work. The Minister promised they would be rehired prior to fall classes resuming, that clearly hasn’t happened in most cases.

“And we need more from this Government. We need an  individually tailored plan to support students with learning disabilities. The UCP found $4.7 billion to give to big, profitable corporations but they can’t find any money to support students with learning disabilities who are doing their best to learn during a global pandemic? It really demonstrates the priorities of this Government.”

Erin Schaefer, an Edmonton mother of two, is considering keeping her two kids at home for schooling this fall. Her youngest son Malcolm was due to begin kindergarten this fall but suffers from Hypotonia, a condition that leaves him with slowed muscle function. She fears that Malcolm will be unable to stay safe without direct supervision, small class sizes and changes to how kindergarten is taught, given that it’s often very interactive among students.

“This Government isn’t seeing us, because they don’t want to see us,” Schaefer said. “They want to pretend like things are normal, but they’re not.

“I was on a conference call last week and when the question was raised about how to support students with extra needs, the only real answer was that we would need to keep advocating and putting pressure on this Government. 

“That was so frustrating. As a parent of students with extra needs, I already advocate my butt off and I know so many others do too. Why is this our responsibility to make school safe?”

NDP Community Social Services Critic Marie Renaud said Schaefer is far from alone in her concerns. She noted the Government cut the Program Unit Funding (PUF) program, eliminating eligibility by 42 per cent prior to the pandemic and also cut more than $60 million from the Regional Collaborative Service Delivery program. Both programs would help students like Malcolm and Riley.

“Parents are in an impossible situation,” Renaud said. “They are left to decide whether to send their children to school knowing they don’t have the support necessary to keep them safe or keep them home and potentially have them fall behind in their education, which could impact the rest of their life.

“If Jason Kenney and the UCP actually cared they would step up immediately and provide more support to students with disabilities. These are childrens’ lives we’re talking about here.”