As students and teachers return to school to begin a new year, the Alberta Teachers’ Association remains concerned about some gaps in the COVID-19 safety protocols put in place by the government.
The province announced its return-to-school plan on Aug. 13, one day after the ATA released its own nine-point plan for a safe return to school. The government plan includes an extension of testing and isolation protocols until at least Sept. 27—which the ATA advocated for.
The government and the ATA plans also align with regard to the implementation of daily screenings and in-school vaccination programs, but the ATA believes that tracing measures should also remain and that all of these conditions should continue until a significant majority of students have been fully vaccinated.
The ATA is also concerned about the use of a 10 per cent threshold of absenteeism for bringing in enhanced measures.
“Waiting until 200 students in a large city high school have become infected at the same time is a recipe for disaster that could be easily avoided with a lower threshold,” said ATA president Jason Schilling.
The province stopped short of requiring masks in schools, prompting several school boards to adopt their own masking policies.
“It is disappointing that the government has abdicated so much of its leadership and responsibility on this file to school boards,” Schilling said. “We know that this issue has become unnecessarily divisive and political—the minister has now left school board trustees to make the tough decisions and to take the heat.”
Several of the ATA’s other expectations also remain unaddressed, especially those with a stronger focus on the learning needs of students, such as making standardized tests optional and pausing the pilot testing of the new curriculum.
The shortcomings of the provincial plan have added to the anxiety that teachers feel entering the new school year, Schilling said, but teachers are excited to return to school and interact with their students.
“Ideally, we want to see a year that is not as disruptive as last year, but we need to also make sure that, as we return to school, we look at the health and safety of our students,” he said. “We also need to spend some time focusing on really supporting students in their learning, their well-being and their mental health.” ❚