By Jensen, Randy on August 6, 2020.
Lethbridge’s two MLAs have differing opinions on the additional steps taken this week by the provincial government to safeguard the health of local children heading back to school in September.
Alberta Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange announced on Tuesday there would be mandatory masking in effect for students in Grades 4 to 12 in common areas this fall. Her ministry also provided further dollars to help schools ensure there are proper masks, face shields and sanitization supplies available in classrooms.
MLA Nathan Neudorf of Lethbridge-East says the government has taken significant steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools by these measures, but is also prepared to do more if the Chief Medical Officer of Health deems it advisable.
“We heard a lot from teachers and we also heard a number of parents also raise the question about safety,” confirms Neudorf. “With the Chief Medical Officer of Health looking into that and recommending masks to be used, I believe that’s why they made this decision to go forward and provide those masks.”
“There may be more changes beyond this,” he stresses, “and obviously this is the next step, and sometimes you have to make decisions in real time and hope for the best outcome down the road when we actually get to the date of school starting.”
MLA Shannon Phillips of Lethbridge-West says this “vast human experiment” the government is undertaking is dangerous and will put kids’ lives at risk if they aren’t willing to bankroll strong preventative action by limiting classroom sizes.
“I share concerns with the vast majority of parents who have contacted me,” she says. “I think without any of the appropriate resources for actual physical distancing this is not a plan that is designed for success. It is a non-plan that will put our children at risk, and therefore our economy and our ability to all go back to work safely also at risk.”
She says what it really amounts to is an abdication of moral responsibility on the part of the UCP government.
“The fact of the matter is this (announcement on Tuesday) was the very least, smallest piece of action they could take to keep children safe,” Phillips states. “When you have a government that is approaching a global pandemic and children’s health and safety with the bare minimum approach, you really have to wonder what kind of values are guiding this government.”
Neudorf says the government is listening to the advice of medical experts in its response, and thus far has heard there is no need to consider reducing classroom sizes.
“I don’t think that is the way (the Ministry of Education) is going,” states Neudorf.
“They are trying to get all students back to the best learning scenario possible. But again, depending on continued observation of results of COVID and things that may happen, we will definitely be watching it and we will see what decisions we have to make. Things can change day to day, and we are still four weeks out. We need to get kids back to school in the best environment possible and we need to do it safely.”
“The vast majority of correspondence I have received is parents wanting their kids to go back,” he adds. “There are questions in there, too, and obviously safety is a top priority. But I think everybody after the last five months wants to be as close to normal as possible.”
Phillips is concerned the UCP is playing politics with children’s health and lives.
“Let me be clear; I want nothing more than my children to go back to school,” she says. “My children and children across this province need that structured educational and social life. They need it, but they need it to be done safely. Right now, if you are going to cram 25 to 30 children in a classroom, and you are not physically distancing and you are not following anything approaching the generally accepted evidence of science, you are not heeding the warnings from other jurisdictions who have already failed to do thisÉ Essentially what this government has done is shrugged and said, ‘Well, there are going to be some folks who get the virus.’ As a parent, I am not OK with that.”
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