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Highlights from the legislature

Government and opposition debate COVID planning and reaction

January 13, 2021 Kim Clement, ATA News Staff

The fall session of the 30th legislature wrapped up in early December. Here is a summary of the education-related discussions that took place during its last week. The legislature is now adjourned until February.

School re-entry plan and education funding

Dec. 7—Sarah Hoffman (NDP—Edmonton-Glenora) asked Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz when the government will act to reduce class sizes to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in schools. Schulz answered that the government’s re-entry plan provided staff and students with the resources needed to ensure a safe school year, including $10 million in PPE for students and staff, which purchased 1.6 million reusable masks and 466,000 litres of hand sanitizer.

Hoffman noted that government also cut $128 million just prior to that and asked why teachers and principals must be health care workers, infectious disease specialists and educators all at the same time. Schulz said that the NDP plan was unrealistic in terms of space and dollars, and government will continue to work with education partners to keep students and staff safe.

Educational curriculum review and redesign

Dec. 7—Mark Smith (UCP—Drayton Valley–Devon) asked Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz to explain what information about the curriculum review can be found on the new government website. Schulz answered that the Department of Education has published a website where Albertans can find detailed information about the review process, how curriculum is being developed and who is working on it.

She added that the previous government “worked tirelessly to hide the membership of their curriculum working groups from the public. Albertans elected us to pause those closed-door secretive curriculum reviews, and that is exactly what we’re doing. We committed to taking ideology out of the classroom, not putting it in.”

Smith asked what the next steps are in the curriculum review and when Albertans can expect to see a draft K–6 curriculum. Schulz said that the K–6 curriculum is being refined to align with the ministerial order on student learning released in August.

Schulz said the draft curriculum would go forward to the curriculum working groups, consisting solely of teachers, for further review and refinement. Schulz concluded by stating that government will also begin engaging with academics and education system partners in this work, and in early 2021 will be releasing the draft for public input so parents and all Albertans can review it prior to piloting in September 2021.

COVID-19 in schools

Dec. 8—Sarah Hoffman (NDP—Edmonton-Glenora) asked Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz about the new policy in schools addressing who is considered a “close contact.” She noted that teachers will have to try to recall how many minutes they spend close to people infected with COVID-19. Schulz said that the process is being refined so that teachers are not being forced to quarantine unnecessarily. She added that AHS is working hard to increase staffing for contact tracing for school-aged children so information can get to schools and families more quickly.

Hoffman said that parents and principals are being forced to do contact tracing and hundreds of thousands of students have been forced to abandon their classrooms. Schulz said that transmission in schools is low and accounts for just 1.1 per cent of COVID cases since September. ❚


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