ATA President Jason Schilling is challenging the government to provide additional supports to enhance the safety of students and staff members as they return to school on Monday.
Yesterday’s government news release proclaimed that “new case rates in schools plateaued and then dropped in December,” citing public health measures as the cause of this change, without attributing much effect to the obvious impact of moving secondary classes online two weeks earlier.
“Teachers, students, families and the community deserve to be better protected,” says Schilling. “There is a swath of measures that would help make schools safer and help to keep them open longer that the government continues to ignore.”
The Alberta Teachers’ Association has produced a report outlining eight actions that would help keep school communities safe and schools open longer during the pandemic:
- Reduce class size for physical distancing.
- Enhance well-being supports for all.
- Support school leadership and reduce bureaucratic tasks.
- Address critical substitute teacher shortage.
- Address educational assistant shortages.
- Allow teachers to attend to professional concerns, while respecting occupational health and safety obligations.
- Eliminate high-stakes testing regimes and initiatives.
- Improve information reliability and transparency of decision making.
Schilling credits government for making improvements to contact tracing, which will significantly reduce the burden placed on schools, but says that is only one small improvement that is desperately needed.
“Government officials continue to view the return to school as a huge success, and I cannot agree,” he says. “Teachers and other school staff have worked themselves ragged to make education as safe as it can be and they deserve all the credit. I just wish they were fully supported.”
Schilling notes that current measures of active COVID cases and testing positivity rates are very similar to what they were in November when secondary classes were moved online, but that hospitalization and ICU usage remain dangerously high. He notes that new variants of the COVID virus are emerging and are already amplifying rates of contagion in other jurisdictions.
“Alberta is not an island, and now is the time to take all preventative measures,” said Schilling. “Safe schools occur in conjunction with safe communities, and more should be done now instead of just hoping that spread does not spiral out of control again.”