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Return to classes lacks planning, says ATA president

January 11, 2022 Mark Milne, ATA News Staff


Many teachers are feeling like they’re performing a high-wire act without a net as they head back to the classroom after winter break, according to Alberta Teachers’ Association president Jason Schilling, who has been hearing from members as in-person learning resumes amid growing case numbers of the Omicron variant. 

“Let me be clear, teachers want to be in the classroom. They know face-to-face instruction is the best environment for learning,” said Schilling, “but it needs to take place in a setting that is safe for both the teacher and student. We don’t have that and there doesn’t seem to be any significant movement from the ministry to achieve it.”


During a Jan. 5 news conference, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange provides an update on the province’s plan for a return to schools on Jan. 10.


On Dec. 30, with just one day left in many teachers’ winter break, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced a provincewide extension of the holiday for all K–12 students. Less than a week later, the minister updated her plan by announcing that in-person instruction would commence for all grade levels when learning resumed on Jan. 10.

“I, myself, have heard overwhelmingly from families that learning in person is best for children,” said LaGrange. “This is why Alberta’s government has placed such a high priority on safe in-classroom instruction and making sure our schools have the tools that they need.” 

LaGrange said the 8.6 million rapid-test kits and 16.5 million medical grade masks that had been earmarked for distribution to schools would begin rolling out on Jan. 7, and all schools should receive their first shipment no later than Jan. 14.

Schilling pointed out that many schools could potentially be back in person for nearly a week with absolutely no additional safety measures than they had before winter break. 

LaGrange said Alberta’s schools have always provided a safe environment for their staff and students. 

“Our schools were safe before the pandemic,” she said. “They were safe the last two years, during the pandemic, with all of the measures we put in place. And with these additional measures, they will continue to be safe.”

Schilling said the winter break extension and additional test kits were initially a step in the right direction, but the ministry’s plan still falls short of the leadership parents, teachers and educational staff expect from their government. He said the province’s plan is short of substance on masking protocols, improved air filtration, funding for substitutes or school-based vaccination clinics.

“I am frustrated beyond words,” Schilling said, “when I hear our government leaders saying ‘We are doing everything we possibly can to ensure our schools and our staff are safe.’ I don’t buy it! I don’t buy it for a minute when they say this publicly and then follow through with the bare minimum.” ❚

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