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Education in the news

April 9, 2019 ATA News Staff

With the provincial election approaching, the ATA News is tracking news coverage related to education, in an effort to help members stay abreast of developments and the various parties’ views. The following excerpts, slightly modified to fit this context, are from stories that made headlines from mid-March to early April.

Alberta Party wants to see safe zones around schools to prevent anti-abortion demonstrations

After parents of students at a number of Calgary schools complained about anti-abortion protesters setting up just outside school grounds, one Alberta politician wants to see changes made.

A recent video of a protest at Queen Elizabeth High School in northwest Calgary shows protesters on public property holding up graphic placards in plain view of many students.

Alberta Party candidate for Calgary-Mountain View, Angela Kokott, says she wants to see more legislation to prevent anti-abortion activists from holding rallies anywhere near any K–12 school in the province.

Current laws protect only patients at abortion clinics, giving them a safe zone in a 50 metre radius of any centre that provides the service.

John Carpay, president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, says his organization is in support of freedom of expression for anyone wanting to send a message. He adds the only restriction he sees would be criminal hate speech. He says these types of protests are just “part of living in a free country.”

CTV News, March 14

Government ponders abortion protest bubble zones for schools

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman says her government will amend legislation to extend abortion protest bubble zones around K–12 schools in Alberta.

Hoffman’s decision comes after social media footage from Calgary this week showed anti-abortion protesters confronting students from Queen Elizabeth High School with placards as students entered their school.

That means Bill 9, a piece of legislation the legislature passed last spring, which created protest-free bubble zones around Alberta abortion clinics, would be amended.

United Conservative MLAs refused to vote on or debate the bill, leaving the chamber repeatedly. At the time, UCP Leader Jason Kenney accused the NDP of playing political games with “divisive social issues.”

Edmonton Journal, March 15

Double number of educational assistants: Alberta Party

The Alberta government should double the number of educational assistants in Alberta schools and increase funding for inclusive education by 50 per cent, Alberta Party Leader Stephen Mandel said.

At an Edmonton campaign announcement Thursday at Al-Mustafa Academy, Mandel pledged to increase to $690 million a year the funding for school boards to aid students with disabilities and challenges.

A newly created ministry of early childhood would include an independent learning assessment agency that would catch more children’s learning challenges sooner, taking the burden off the school system, he said.

Greta Gerstner, executive director of the Strategic Alliance for Alberta Students with Learning Challenges, was puzzled by some of Mandel’s ideas.

Students don’t need more educational assistants, she said. They need more professionals with specialized qualifications, such as occupational therapists, psychologists, speech language pathologists, and specialists in mental health, reading and behavioural challenges.

Edmonton Sun, March 21

School trustees push for school board funding to keep pace with growth

The next Alberta government must provide funding for new students enrolling in the province's publicly funded schools, school trustees say.

Gathered outside Rogers Place in Edmonton and the Saddledome in Calgary, shivering trustees from across Alberta pointed to the arenas to give perspective on the 15,000 more students expected to enrol in Alberta schools by September 2019 compared to September 2018.

A September 2018 report prepared for Edmonton Public trustees said if government fails to fund new students the same year they enrol in district schools, it would be equivalent to a shortage of 188 teachers and support staff compared to current staffing levels.

Both the United Conservative Party and the NDP have said they will review the province's education funding formula. The Alberta Party and the NDP have both explicitly promised to fund enrolment growth in schools, if elected.

Edmonton Journal, March 25

UCP pushes trades, apprenticeships for young Albertans

More vocational schools and apprenticeships,
$1 million in trade scholarships, junior high students working on job sites and an Alberta trades hall of fame will be in the cards if the UCP wins the spring election.

The proposals were largely based on Germany’s trades education model, which relies on heavy union participation and buy-in from employers.

UCP leader Jason Kenney said the benefits of expanding the emphasis on trades would be two-fold for Alberta — reducing youth unemployment and plugging a growing gap in the labour market as the population ages.

Kenney said a UCP government would quadruple the number of students placed with employers in paid apprenticeships, establish a $1 million trade scholarship fund for high school graduates and change provincial employment codes so junior high students can work in co-op programs on job sites.

Edmonton Journal, March 26

Rally held in support of GSAs; nearly 500 people march to oppose UCP's proposed changes

Supporters of the LGBTQ community marched to the UCP’s Edmonton headquarters from the provincial legislature grounds Wednesday evening to oppose proposed changes to laws surrounding gay–straight alliances (GSAs) in Alberta schools.

Close to 500 people waving pride and transgender flags joined the march after UCP Leader Jason Kenney said this week that a United Conservative Party (UCP) government would replace Alberta’s School Act with the former Progressive Conservative government’s Education Act.

The rollback would eliminate changes the NDP introduced, which prohibit school staff from informing parents that their children are participating in GSAs and require school principals to immediately grant student requests to form a gay–straight alliance, among other regulations.

The crowd, which included a number of candidates running in the upcoming election, shouted chants of “Hey Jason, leave our kids alone” and “One, two, three, four, our kids are who we’re fighting for,” as they arrived at the front doors of the UCP headquarters.

David Campbell, one of the leaders of the chants, said he thinks Wednesday’s rally was effective.

Edmonton Sun, March 27

Jason Kenney defends plan to roll back part of Alberta’s law on gay–straight alliances

The United Conservative Party’s promise to repeal legislation that prohibits Alberta teachers from informing parents when a student joins a gay–straight alliance has revived the debate about the peer-support groups.

UCP leader Jason Kenney released an education platform that included repealing a law passed in 2017 by the NDP and reverting to legislation from the final days of former premier Jim Prentice’s government.

While both laws protect students’ right to start gay–straight alliances, or GSAs, the change would remove provisions that banned teachers and principals from informing parents if a student joins one of the clubs. Mr. Kenney said the UCP’s policy would still offer strong protections for GSA clubs.

Kristopher Wells, an associate professor in the faculty of health and community studies at MacEwan University, says while students would still be allowed to form the clubs under
Mr. Kenney’s plan, administrators would be able to obstruct the creation of the groups and make joining them difficult.

Globe and Mail, March 27

NDP promises 70 new and modernized schools, 1,000 new teachers and staff

The NDP would spend $1.3 billion constructing and modernizing 70 more schools during the next five years if returned to government, leader Rachel Notley pledged.

The party also committed Thursday to fully funding growing student enrolment each year at an estimated cost of $72 million. It would add an estimated 600 new teaching and support staff positions for the 15,000 more students expected to arrive in Alberta schools by the fall.

An NDP government would also make permanent and increase the classroom improvement fund (CIF) to $100 million a year from the current $77 million, a party news release said. It should add another 400 teachers and support staff to Alberta classrooms, Notley said. Schools and boards decide what staff to hire with their provincial funding allotments.

Edmonton Journal, March 28

Better funding urged for rural schools

Debate over funding schools in
Alberta is heating up now that a provincial election has been called.

Rural education advocates hope that whoever forms the next government will review current funding formulas, noting schools in small communities are losing funds even as they need adequate amounts to remain viable.

Holly Bilton, chair of the Rural Caucus of Alberta School Boards, said Alberta largely funds schools based on the student population, and that is where the problem lies. Rural schools often receive lower funding because of the funding formula, and their funds can be reduced when student numbers dwindle.

She said the model needs to change, possibly creating a separate pot of funds solely for rural schools.

Education Minister David Eggen told delegates at the Alberta Rural Education Symposium that an NDP government would begin looking at a new formula if it forms government this spring.

“I think time is up on the way that we've been doing it so far,” he said.

Greg Jeffery, president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, said he would look forward to a review of education funding.

Western Producer, March 28

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