First, it is with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Alfred Brander from Langdon. Alfred was a recognizable and important member of our community, and attended social events in the constituency where our paths often crossed. My sincere condolences to his loved ones; he will most certainly be remembered.
I know that this is a very different year, and along with pencil crayons, Kleenex, new notebooks, and backpacks, you may also be adding hand sanitizer, gloves and masks into the mix of needed supplies. We are so excited for kids to get back to school, and more than that, the kids are super excited to get back to school themselves. They have missed each other, their teachers, their friends, their activities and they have missed learning. There will obviously be added health measures, similar to daycares that opened up earlier in the pandemic, as did shopping centres, and other essential services that have done exceptional work keeping their customers, and their staff healthy. Thank you to the teachers, trustees, superintendents and school organizations for their incredible advocacy, help and wisdom in setting the parameters for getting back to school, and of course to our amazing Minister of Education, Adriana LaGrange, and Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, who leads the way with her level head and her consultation with the education system. The students, staff, parents and school visitors will be expected to do self-screening in the form of a daily questionnaire to be able to enter school. There is nothing more important than the safe re-entry of students and school staff. Our government has provided clear direction, and we are grateful to students, parents, teachers and school boards for adapting so quickly when schools were shut down in March. Please make sure you have the re-entry toolkit to help get yourself and your child get ready for what school will look like. It is available online at Alberta.ca under COVID-19: Education and Childcare. This is of course subject to change with direction from the Chief Medical Officer of Health. Provincial funding will continue to the schools, including an additional $120 million in operating funding, and school boards have approximately $360 million in reserves to help them prepare for school during COVID. Additionally, we accelerated $250 million in infrastructure maintenance and renewal funding to help upgrade much needed infrastructure, of which $15 million was used for COVID-specific upgrades, such as installing touchless sinks and replacing water fountains with bottle fill stations. We will also be monitoring and sharing updated information about COVID cases in Alberta, and along with the help of school boards, school trustees, school administrators, teachers, staff, children, students, and parents/guardians we will ensure that there is adherence to public health measures. We acknowledge that in-class learning will require us to be vigilant, and if there is an outbreak we will ensure a rapid response and close contact identification and quick testing to identify the risks, which could lead to temporary closure of the in-person class.
Here is some cross-jurisdictional comparisons: In Vancouver, they are looking at a hybrid model that does some in-school and some online learning. If you as a parent have the flexibility for this, that might work. If you are a working parent, that system will not allow you to return to work full-time. This model was also used in New York, and the school boards, teachers’ unions and medical professionals along with parents are saying that the emotional well being and education of the student while keeping everyone safe has to be the top priority; the model above did not accomplish this (Global News, July 13, 2020). Part-time school will hamper economic recovery, and disproportionately impacts women. We need everyone to get back to work to kick-start the economy, and we need our kids to safely return to school. Ontario is looking very closely at the model created by Minister LaGrange in consultation with the school boards, the Ministry of Health, and Dr. Deena Hinshaw. This will be about flexibility, adaptability, and evolving the parameters as the operations could change based on where we are with respect to cases when schools open. We are looking forward to seeing the beautiful faces of our kids back to school, walking the stages at their graduations, and learning how to work together in this “new normal”. This is about the emotional, social and physical wellbeing of our students.
As always, we love to hear from you. –Leela