May 25th, 2024

Critical COVID measures needed before schools reopen, says NDP

By Al Beeber - Lethbridge Herald on January 5, 2022.


The provincial NDP wants the Alberta government to introduce several measures to ensure schools can be kept open safely when students return to their classrooms next week.
Education critic Sarah Hoffman outlined the measures Tuesday morning in a Zoom conference with party leader Rachel Notley and Brandi Rai, president of the Alberta School Councils Association.
The six-pronged strategy includes a fund that would give $500 to families for each student and $750 to each student with “complex needs,” said Hoffman, “to support families when their kids are forced to stay at home.
“It’s inevitable that some, and possibly all, families will go through this again and it creates real costs for families at a time when everything is already getting more and more expensive.
The NDP is also calling for a mental health counsellor to be hired for each Alberta school and that immediate funding is made available to put substitute teachers on contract for the remainder of the school year.
The NDP also wants the government to supply N95 masks to students and staff and install HEPA filters and carbon dioxide detectors in schools.
And Hoffman said the UCP “must address and assess public reports and share that information publicly about absentee rates and infection rates that are projected for school staff,” Hoffman said.
“This will give us all a picture of whether schools will be forced to close again due to a lack of staff,” she said.
Hoffman said N95 masks are needed because medical professionals say they provide the best protection against airborne spread “and we know COVID is airborne.”
Because the COVID-19 virus is airborne, HEPA filters can help reduce risk of spreading COVID in confined spaces, she said.
And CO2 detectors will measure how effective a school’s ventilation system is at refreshing air in classrooms, she added.
Putting substitute teachers on contract “will help backfill staffing levels and enable us to hire additional substitutes where possible,” said Hoffman, adding schools have been repeatedly forced to close because of a teacher shortage which could happen again.
“I know it’s been an incredibly difficult couple of years for everyone in our school community. Students have been sent home at least four times now with almost no notice and many more times than that at some point. And this throws families into chaos every single time,” said Notley.
“Young people are dealing with isolation and learning loss, especially for those with complex needs who require specific help to succeed in school. Teachers, educational assistants, principals, administrative staff, custodians, everyone in our schools have been working hard under intense pressure.
“A lot of energy that would usually be focused on instruction has been diverted to keeping students safe.
“Today, we are faced with yet another challenge, a variant that is far more transmissible than previous strains of COVID-19,” she said in reference to Omicron.
“Yesterday, I raised concerns about Ontario and its predicted spike in hospitalizations. And also within that province’s data, we are seeing more children being admitted to the hospital than ever before in this pandemic,” said Notley.
“COVID does spread in schools, the evidence is clear. And so we have to do more. We open Alberta’s schools next week and to keep them open safety through this school year, our government simply must do more than dump the problem onto school districts and hope for the best.”

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