On July 21, the UCP government announced 750,000 students will return to school in September under the government’s re-entry plan Scenario 1.
Scenario 1 means in-class learning under near-normal daily operating conditions with health measures.
These measures include two free reusable masks per student (mandatory for grades 4 and up where physical distancing is not possible), masks plus a discretionary face shield for staff, frequent cleaning, 466,000 litres of hand sanitizer, two thermometers per school, putting students into cohorts, and allowing schools to stagger start times for classes, recess and lunch.
Scenario 1 does not include capping class sizes at 15 or even 20, presumably because this would require hiring additional teachers.
Education minister, Adriana LaGrange, said her government is “determined to do everything we can” for the safe return of our students, teachers and staff.
Dr Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer, said “we are committed to doing everything possible” to protect the health and safety of students, staff and family.
They both stand resolutely behind Scenario 1.
And yet Albertans across the province have taken to the streets demanding more funding to support additional safety measures. Unlike Ms LaGrange and Dr Hinshaw, they are not convinced that Scenario 1 does “everything possible” to keep our children, staff and families safe in the midst of a pandemic.
Why the lack of trust?
It will be fine, trust me
When Ms LaGrange announced Scenario 1, she assured Albertans it reflected the input and support of “school authorities” and “education partners”. She failed to mention that throughout the process she refused to meet with the Alberta Teachers Association (gasp! the dreaded union).
By excluding the ATA she made three serious mistakes.
First she signaled her government’s contempt for the ATA which represents 32,500 teachers in the province, second she chose to ignore the best advice available on how to structure the teaching environment in a way that minimizes the risk of contracting covid-19, and third she threw away an opportunity to include teachers in the roll-out of the re-entry plan which would have given it additional credibility.
Ms LaGrange finally agreed to meet with the ATA in the third week in August. The ATA expressed concerns around the need for increased physical distancing through reduced class sizes, funding for better protective equipment and better plans for screening and testing students and staff.
It is extremely unlikely the ATA’s concerns will make it into the re-entry plan.
No really, you can trust me
Sadly, we’re having trust issues with Dr Deena Hinshaw as well.
This is not surprising given all that Premier Kenney has done to marginalize Alberta’s chief medical officer. Never was this more evident than when Mr Kenney lifted the state of emergency without consulting Dr Hinshaw prior to announcing his decision. She was blindsided at a press conference by a reporter asking her to comment on Mr Kenney’s decision.
Dr Hinshaw says she supports the government’s re-entry plan because it’s been proven by the Canadian Pediatric Society, the American Academy of Pediatrics and others that the “safe return to school is critical to the physical and mental health and well-being of students and families.”
She added (1) if children are infected, they’re more likely to be mildly sick, (2) childhood infections don’t seem to drive community transmission, and (3) young children appear to be less likely than adults to infect others.
All of this is interesting but it does not address the issue.
No one is disputing the experts’ position that returning to school is critical to the physical and mental well-being of students and families. And most of us are not in a position to comment on whether young children are less likely to infect others than older children or whether childhood infections drive community transmission.
However, given Dr Hinshaw’s commitment to do “everything possible” to protect the health and safety of students, staff and families, we’d really appreciate her expert opinion on whether the government’s Scenario 1 re-entry plan meets this standard.
No, we don’t trust you
And then there’s Jason Kenney.
He says the school re-entry plan is part of Alberta’s plan to relaunch our economy, but unlike other elements of Alberta’s recovery plan this one is not supported by a significant investment.
As far as we can tell the funds allocated to the plan are nothing more than (1) the return of funds stripped out of the education budget in the spring when Ms LaGrange fired 20,000 education assistants and staff, (2) giving permission to school boards to tap into their reserves and (3) accelerating capital spending already in the budget.
Compare this to Mr Kenney’s generous gift of $1.5 billion in equity and $6 billion in loan guarantees to TC Energy’s KXL pipeline.
It appears the health and well-being of 750,000 Alberta students, 32,500 teachers, countless associated staff and their respective families don’t stack up against the iffy promise of 6,800 direct and indirect jobs in the oil sector.
Perhaps the real reason Albertans have taking to the streets to protest Scenario 1 is that they don’t trust a government that believes we must be a prosperous society before we can be a compassionate caring one.