ATA requests more information after return to school postponed

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The Alberta Teacher’s Association (ATA) calls on the government to provide answers on additional measures and safety measures that will be provided to schools after Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced that students would not be returning to school before January 10.

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ATA President Jason Schilling said the government should always take care of ventilation in schools and ideally the association’s concerns about class sizes, vaccine availability and protocols security would have been treated as a system proactively, rather than as a reactive measure.

Schilling put a series of questions to the government on Friday. He asked what is being done to prepare for staff shortages due to COVID-19, will vaccination mandates be implemented for staff and what metrics will be used to decide when classes should go online.

“When we go through the list of questions that we have out there, we do and have provided advice on a lot of those questions,” said Schilling, “We had a rule implementation in an area that was quite different from the implementation of rules and other places. We need to see something that is standardized and that applies province-wide right now, especially as we are dealing with this variant of concern. “

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Schilling asked the questions a day after LaGrange announced that students would not be returning to school next week as originally planned, to allow school boards to prepare for students amid an increase in COVID cases -19. Instead, they’ll be back on January 10, and the grade 12 diploma exams have been canceled. The government will also provide rapid take-out antigen tests and medical-grade masks for staff and students across the school system.

Schilling said the ATA welcomed the delay as well as other measures taken by the government, but said it was not consulted until Thursday’s announcement. He said there were still many questions that needed to be answered and the government should engage with everyone involved in the school system going forward.

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He also said the ATA feared that within a week the Omicron variant could result in higher cases than they are today. Alberta on Thursday reported a daily record for new cases with about 4,000 new infections.

“This is a concern, given the large increase in cases that we are seeing in the province right now, but we currently do not have specific information on these numbers as AHS will not release these statistics until January 4,” Schilling said. “School boards, as well as the ATA, will need to assess the situation a little better next week and develop a plan that will ensure the safety of students and staff, as well as the best way to approach lifelong learning for students. “

Meanwhile, Calgary’s two largest school boards have said they welcome the delay.

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The Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD) said that while the extended break can cause hardship for families, it is operationally necessary.

“This is currently operationally necessary, as many of our employees are battling the virus and are unable to work,” said spokesperson Felicia Zuniga. “The CCSD is pleased that Alberta Education has canceled the January diploma exams as it reduces additional stress for our students. “

Zuniga did not provide the number of staff members currently in isolation due to COVID-19, saying they are assessing the situation.

The Calgary Board of Education (CBE) said it also welcomed the delay. They added that they will have more information for families next week.

“Principals will be communicating directly with school staff about return-to-work plans for next week as we plan to return students to class,” said spokesperson Joanne Anderson.

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CBE administrator Susan Vukadinovic tweeted Thursday wondering why schools would close while casinos remain open.

“Why are we closing schools while keeping casinos open in Alberta ?! Vukadinovic tweeted.

The tweet was then deleted. When asked to comment, via CBE, Postmedia was told that it had no further comments beyond a statement previously provided by the board.

Schilling said on Friday that teachers would return to work to some extent next week and that it wouldn’t be an extra week off. He said school boards will decide how teachers will work.

Announcing the delay on Thursday, LaGrange acknowledged it would cause hardship for some families who had planned to return to work next week. She said daycare centers would be open across the province.

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In Calgary, several centers have said they will be open. The Calgary daycare has confirmed it will remain open next week to allow parents additional supervision.

Meanwhile, Christine Tuturea, executive director of the KidZinc School Age Care Society of Alberta, said they have confirmed with CBE and CSSD that they will be able to operate next week. She said that rather than offering before and after school childcare options, they would move to an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. program.

“We’re just reaching out to our employees, making sure people are healthy, seeing who was sick or isolated, and then figuring out from there how many people we have available, so (we know) how many children can welcome us next week, ”Tuturea said.

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She said they would be open from Tuesday and it would have been good if they had been informed earlier of the extended school vacation.

“Given where we are in the pandemic and knowing that things are changing, I think it would have been prudent for the government and the Department of Education to have a backup plan in place and have it ready.” earlier. Said Tuturea.

Tuturea said it has ordered PPE and rapid test kits from the government to provide to the staff they hope to have by next week. She urged the government to provide these products directly to daycares as they are out of stock elsewhere.

Rebecca Polak, press secretary to the Minister of Children’s Services, said eligible child care programs and family homes can request personal protective equipment from the province.

LaGrange said Thursday that she would make herself available to school authorities and that more details would be announced next week.

dshort@postmedia.com

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