By Cole Parkinson
While school divisions are preparing to open their doors next week, the Alberta Teachers’ Association is asking the provincial government to push back the first day of school.
In a meeting between the ATA and the Minister of Education, Adriana LaGrange, ATA president Jason Schilling is hoping the government will push back the opening day until after the Labour Day long weekend.
Horizon School Division sees a vast number of their schools open on Aug. 31 while Holy Spirit schools open the following day on Sept. 1.
“We have had a frank and informative meeting with Minister LaGrange and senior officials today, and I thank her for taking the time to meet with us and listen to the concerns of teachers. The ATA’s priority continues to be ensuring that school reopening is done as safely as possible. Teachers want schools to open, they just want it to be safe. Given that issues remain, we are calling for the minister to delay the start of school until after Labour Day so that teachers, principals and other staff can prepare for the arrival of students,” reads a statement from Schilling.
Within the meeting, the ATA brought forward and pushed their priorities for the following school year which includes an ongoing multistakeholder working group that includes public health, a clear plan for transitioning schools between scenarios, increased physical distancing through reduced class sizes, funding for enhanced staff, protective equipment and HVAC improvements, better plans for screening and testing of students and staff and resources and supports to ensure the safety and availability of substitute teachers.
“The minister listened to our concerns, and I feel that she has a better understanding of them now than before. Nothing was formally agreed to, but I expect to hear more from the minister on these important issues. The government now has to act,” continues the statement from Schilling.
The Alberta government responded the interaction was a good one and they stated they would explore the possibilities of moving back the start of school dates.
“Earlier this week I met with executives from the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) to discuss school re-entry. One of their requests was that I engage with education partners to get their views on the ATA’s request to delay school re-entry. While our re-entry plan, as written, already provides school boards with the ability to delay or stagger school start dates should they decide that is in their local best interest, I agreed to further engage with education partners and get their views on this ATA request. This was done by having follow-up discussions with the Alberta School Boards Association and the College of Alberta School Superintendents,” said LaGrange in a press release. “These partners remain confident, as do I, that the school re-entry plan already provides local school authorities with the autonomy and flexibility to ensure local needs are met and to prepare schools for a safe re-entry. I have also had the chance to review all the planned re-entry dates for schools across the province, and I see that time is clearly available to allow teachers to prepare for re-entry before their students arrive.”
LaGrange further touched on the work that will continue heading into the new school year.
“These plans and timelines were created by school boards who continue to follow the expert medical advice of Alberta’s chief medical officer of health,” continues the release. “I would like to reinforce that I continue to support school boards using this flexibility to adjust their plans if necessary in the coming days as they make preparations for a safe return to school. I encourage local education partners to continue to collaborate and work together on the decisions related to school calendars.”