School to resume this fall under ‘near normal’ conditions
Premier Jason Kenney and Education Minister Adriana LaGrange confirmed schools will be reopening under near-normal conditions, with no cap on class sizes, in September and won’t get additional money for upgrades.
“Children need us to look out for their future,” Kenney said.
Instead of new funding, the province is accelerating capital maintenance and renewal grants that had been scheduled for future years.
Schools can now use $15 million in previously announced funding to enhance their hygiene facilities by adding hands-free sinks, automatic flush toilets, touchless soap and paper towel dispensers, automatic doors and water bottle filling stations. Another $250 million in capital funds the province promised school boards for maintenance and renewal projects in May, as part of its economic recovery plan, is also on the table.
How that money is spent will be up to the boards.
LaGrange said school boards across the province can also dip into the $363 million they hold in their combined reserves.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley agrees schools must reopen and the public health measures make “perfect sense,” but said safety upgrades must be fully funded and class sizes must be capped.
Specifically, the Opposition leader pointed to teachers who will have to take 10 days off if they are sick, stating those costs — including the costs of substitute teachers — have not been accounted for.
The Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) said it has outstanding concerns with the back-to-school plan and thought it would be involved in further discussion with the government.
“Teachers just want the government to give us a fighting chance to make this work,” said ATA president Jason Schilling. “We believe that with clear, supported measures schools could be a safe space for learning — but outstanding concerns need to be addressed before that can happen.”
Province prepares, but plans could change
LaGrange made the announcement two weeks ahead of the planned August 1 date in order to provide clarity to parents and allow schools to prepare for reopening.
In the event of an outbreak, schools could transition to partial-in-class or at-home learning, depending on the situation. That decision will be made by health officials working with Alberta Education and school authorities.
Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said school-aged children tend to have milder symptoms and are less likely to transmit the disease to others — and that many are experiencing negative mental, emotional and physical impacts from being out of the classroom.
“There is no risk-free approach to living with COVID-19,” Dr. Hinshaw told reporters.
Summer schools have been running in six districts under Scenario 2, which limited class sizes to 15 people per room, and saw no cases. That limit has now been increased to 20.
The government also unveiled a tool kit that includes tips for hand sanitizer placement, frequent cleaning, cohort groups and transportation guidance.