By Woodard, Dale on August 22, 2020.
School is almost back in session, but a group of parents are still voicing their concerns about the re-entry plan in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Parents and children gathered in front of the constituency office for Lethbridge-East MLA Nathan Neudorf Friday for a two-hour, province-wide protest to increase public school funding to ensure a safe re-entry, exactly one month after the province announced schools would resume operations Sept. 1.
Neudorf’s office is closed Fridays, but a group began gathering around 11 a.m., picket signs in hand, to raise concerns ranging from class size, physical distancing, necessary funding and long-term economic implications.
Among the concerned parents was Jayne Werry, a mother of two children in the Lethbridge school system.
“I don’t think the UCP has a safe plan for opening schools in September and I am concerned about sending my kids,” said Werry. “Physical distancing isn’t possible with the class sizes they have. The schools don’t have any extra funding to deal with it and I don’t think they are actually going to be able to keep kids safe in a Scenario 1 reopening.”
Werry attended Friday’s protest with a sign stating her six-year-old son, Sam, is incapable of physical distancing.
“He’s not good at keeping his hands to himself and he is not good at staying far away from people,” she said. “You can’t expect that out of kids his age.”
Werry has registered her children for school, but has requested at-home learning.
“The government needs to take more concrete action to make an actual difference,” she said. “Students are not safe going back into a Scenario 1 plan. They need a better plan and more funding for schools.”
Champion leader for Safe September Alberta, Karla Carcamo, took the lead for the Lethbridge part of the province-wide protest.
“I believe Lethbridge deserves to have a safe re-entry into schools and to have that funded by the provincial government,” she said. “There are parents who are worried about their children’s safety and the community safety. So I thought it was important to bring that to Nathan Neudorf’s attention.”
Carcamo felt capping class sizes to 15 was key.
“We all know what keeps us safe is small gatherings, capping classroom sizes to 15. We must protect our teachers,” she said. “There is no funding for PPE and there is no funding to rehire all the educational assistants that have been fired to help keep social distances. We do know that children are busy bodies, so we are asking for the government to help fund to rehire those educational assistants to help update ventilation systems and to fund further PPE for students and teachers.”
Carcamo was hopeful Friday’s protest would help drive their point home.
“They have listened to public demands in the past. We want them to feel the heat and I do feel they are.”
NDP Lethbridge-West MLA Shannon Phillips said putting 25 or 30 children into a classroom with no additional resources is not a way to keep the economy moving.
“It is a recipe for failure and this approach will, in fact, endanger our economic recovery over the long term. A safe re-entry is one that is sustainable and will make it so that parents have some stability and can get back to work and that our economy can recover.”
Phillips said she will be sending her children to school this fall, but will monitor the situation.
“We have made that decision as a family and I think it is the right approach for my kids,” she said. “That does not, at all, reduce my criticism of this incompetent education minister, this utter moral abdication of responsibility on the part of Premier Kenney and his cabinet, particularly his finance minister who has sat on his hands for six months. He has found billions of dollars for tax cuts for the wealthy and for other pet projects, but he has found nothing for schools.”
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