Once again, the minister of education has announced revisions to the government’s return to school plan developed without the active participation of those who know the most about schools, classrooms and student learning—the teachers of Alberta.
That said, teachers will welcome the improvements set out in this most recent attempt to develop a plan for the resumption of face-to-face schooling: The new provisions for masking and wearing of face shields aligns with recommendations made by the Alberta Teachers’ Association and the decision to pay for the provision of masks, sanitizer and thermometers are welcomed.
The Alberta Teachers’ Association notes, however, that the revised plan still falls far short of the expectations that have consistently been articulated by the Association in its representations. Specifically, the plan fails to address several of the minimum expectations set out in the statement that was posted yesterday and which can be accessed at www.teachers.ab.ca/News%20Room/Issues/COVID-19/2020-School-Re-entry/Pages/Teachers%e2%80%99-Priorities-for-Successful-and-Safe-Re-Entry-to-Alberta-School-Buildings.aspx.
Today’s announcement again does not adequately address the issue of distancing in Alberta’s overcrowded classrooms. The suggestion that masks need not be worn if students can be appropriately distanced within the classroom or if teachers are not working closely with students betrays a fundamental failure to understand what actually goes on in classrooms. Let’s be clear. This means that in virtually every case, everyone will be wearing masks all the time. We note that contrary to the claim made in the news conference, Ontario is taking distancing seriously and making provisions in its return to schooling plan to reduce class numbers and secure additional instructional space.
There is one reason for optimism: government would not have made even these minimal changes if it had not heard from thousands of parents, students and teachers who demanded a better plan and the resources required to implement it. Advocacy works. Advocacy must continue.
A month remains before students, teachers and staff return to school. There is still time to get this right and to create confidence among parents, teachers, staff, students and the community in the face of continuing uncertainty. This does not require that risk be utterly and entirely eliminated, but those participating in public education should believe that the risk they will be undertaking has been minimized and is reasonable, and that their fears and concerns are being heard, understood and actively attended to as a priority.
The Association is calling on the province to:
1. Form a multistakeholder/multisector working group that includes representation of teachers (through the Alberta Teachers’ Association), parents (through the Alberta School Councils’ Association), superintendents and trustees (through their respective organizations), Public Health, Alberta Education, and other stakeholders, to advise on common standards and approaches that will inform school re-entry plans, operating standards and policy direction in response to changing epidemiology and other external circumstances.
2. Ensure that scenario implementation responds to community spread while providing clear information about how schools will transition between scenarios, if necessary.
3. Ensure the reduction of viral spread by increasing outdoor air exchange and improving ventilation and filtering.
4. Create the conditions for social distancing by creating smaller classes, and mandate the wearing of masks or face shields in schools and on buses if social distancing is not possible.
5. Provide funding for increased daytime caretaking staff, masks, and cleaning supplies and equipment.
6. Take steps to protect students and staff who are at higher risk.
7. Create provincial and local COVID-19 response teams and plans.
Please see our school re-entry pages for more information.