Teachers Remain Concerned About Return to School

Release Date 2020 07 21

Safety must be the number one priority as schools prepare to reopen this September says ATA president Jason Schilling.

“Teachers are looking forward to doing the work they love to do with their students, but we remain concerned by the failure of the government to adequately address their concerns. Successful school reopening is critical to the well-being of students, teachers, staff, their families and the economy, and it requires the confidence of everyone impacted.”

Jason Schilling, ATA President

Schilling says ministry officials were collaborating meaningfully with the Association and other stakeholders in developing the initial return-to-school plan, but that that engagement effectively ended in late June. Teachers had outstanding concerns, and the ATA was led to believe that further discussion would occur, but it has not.

“Teachers just want the government to give us a fighting chance to make this work. 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.”

Jason Schilling, ATA President

The Association has enlisted the assistance of Lynora Saxinger, CTropMed, MD, FRCPC, an infectious diseases specialist and associate professor of medicine and dentistry at the University of Alberta, to liaise with members and provide information on the current scientific understanding of COVID-19 transmission risk within schools and the range of best practices for safe schools based on current evidence

The Association has identified a number of key principles for the government to focus on to ensure the return to school is as safe as possible (attached), and in addition to these principles, the government must provide more detailed information, minimum standards and further resources.

“Statements of broad principles are not sufficient. Districts and schools are not well positioned to interpret or operationalize vague direction. Government needs to set and fund clear and specific mandates for risk mitigation.”

Jason Schilling, ATA President

The Association will be reaching out to its members and parents to ensure that they have the best possible information including input from independent experts. We will also be supporting efforts to evaluate the effectiveness of various approaches and interventions.

The Alberta Teachers’ Association, as the professional organization of teachers, promotes and advances public education, safeguards standards of professional practice and serves as the advocate for its 46,000 members.

For more information or to arrange an interview with President Schilling, contact Mark Milne at 780-905-0014 or mark.milne@ata.ab.ca.

Backgrounder

The Association is calling on the province to focus on the following areas to prepare for return to school:

  • Ensure control of COVID-19 transmission in Alberta’s communities in the weeks before school restart as a key measure of successful reopening.
  • Implement a robust fitness-for-school assessment regimen to ensure students and adults entering schools are not symptomatic and establish clear protocols and mechanisms for enforcement and for responding to people who become symptomatic at school.
  • Implement robust sick leave policies for schools and for all workplaces to support parents to stay home with students who may be symptomatic.
  • Mandate provisions for cohorting students in the smallest feasible groups and, to the greatest degree possible, physical distancing in the classroom to limit the potential for widespread transmission in schools and support rapid contact tracing.
  • Provide resources required for frequent handwashing/sanitizing and ongoing cleaning of high-touch surfaces throughout the school day.
  • Enhance strategic COVID-19 testing in school settings and testing access protocol for teachers and other workers in schools.
  • Ensure that adequate substitute teacher coverage is in place to support appropriate immediate self-isolation with symptoms or upon risk exposure.
  • Develop detailed outbreak management plans for school.
  • Provide additional capital funding to support assessment and optimization of improved air handling and ventilation in schools on an expedited basis.

Read a letter sent from ATA president Jason Schilling to Education Minister Adriana LaGrange on June 25, 2020, outlining teacher concerns.

Read Minister LaGrange’s response sent to President Schilling on July 14, 2020.