Question: Happy new year Dennis! How are things shaping up for 2022?
Answer: The shape of things to come in 2022, at least as of the outset of the year, was established by a series of government announcements in the latter part of 2021, some in the last few days of December.
The announcement that will have the most immediate effect on teachers and schools concerns the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic announced on Dec. 30. Over the last 22 months, the Association has been consulting with independent experts and has on numerous occasions offered advice concerning steps that should be taken to ensure the safe and continued operation of schools. Unfortunately, much of this advice has been rejected, and now we are in a situation where, in most areas of the province, the return to class has been delayed, but will still take place before self-administered rapid antigen tests or better quality masks are available in sufficient numbers for use in schools.
Similarly, improvements to ventilation, tracing and reporting, and provisions to better accommodate increased staff absences by placing substitute teachers on contract were not made during the fall. So schools, teachers, staff and communities will have to manage as best they can as 2022 gets underway and likely throughout the remainder of the year.
There has been some speculation that the Omicron variant of COVID-19, which is currently dominant, will have a less severe impact on infected people and that, once it has burned itself out, will, together with the cumulative effect of mass vaccination, leave the population with a relatively high-level of immunity that will reduce COVID-19 to an annoying but unexceptional, endemic and cyclical illness. Let’s hope so.
The problem is that it’s not clear that the virus has gotten the memo and is prepared to co-operate. As long as there are significant populations at home and abroad that remain largely unvaccinated and unprotected, there is a distinct possibility of the emergence of yet more virulent strains of COVID-19 that will affect schools, communities, and the economy collectively and all of us individually.
The minister of education announced Dec. 13 that she was delaying the introduction of a new draft of elementary school curriculum in social studies, French immersion and francophone language arts, science and fine arts, and pushing back the introduction of a new curriculum for junior and senior high grades. This belated development was greeted by teachers with a small sigh of relief, but elementary teachers across the province will still be forced to implement the untested and untried K–6 English language arts, math, and physical education and wellness programs of studies in September 2022.
The new curriculum, which has been developed in secret and shared with only a small number of teachers, all of whom were subject to a gag order, will be a major source of stress for teachers and a continuing concern for parents and engaged citizens. (I’ll note here that the Northwest Territories announced in December its decision to abandon the Alberta curriculum in favour of BC’s.) The curriculum debacle will continue through the year ahead.
Also in December, Minister LaGrange announced that she would be introducing legislation in the spring 2022 session of the legislature to strip the Association of its professional regulatory functions. The disingenuous representations that LaGrange has used to justify this have been thoroughly debunked in this column previously, and I will not revisit them here. In the same time frame, the government approved regulations that are intended to undermine democratic governance of the Association by interfering in its ability to collect and allocate member fees, particularly for charity, issues education and advocacy work. Both these efforts amount to ill-informed, malicious and ultimately counterproductive attacks on teachers’ professionalism, autonomy and collective rights, which will serve only to heighten tension in the education sector. So I suppose they are right on brand for this government.
Is there anything to look forward to in 2022? Well, on Dec. 31, 2022, the province will be five months away from a general election. Perhaps by then the government, and whoever might be in the roles of premier and/or minister of education at the time, will realize that Albertans do not appreciate their previous efforts to attack teachers, foment conflict and disrupt the cultural processes and institutions that had previously helped to create what, by many internationally recognized measures, was one of the best education systems in the world. If, out of some sense of enlightened self-interest, the government then genuinely wants to make things better or at least to foster “peace in the valley,” the Alberta Teachers’ Association will, as always, be prepared to work with them. ❚
Questions for consideration in this column are welcome. Please address them to Dennis Theobald at firstname.lastname@example.org.