The President of the Alberta Teachers Association (ATA) Jason Schilling is expressing concerns that the emergency management cabinet committee hasn’t resulted in more measures to protect Alberta’s students and school staff.
“With only about 45 days remaining in the school year, the government must take significant steps immediately to protect the viability of in-person learning. Alberta has now surpassed more than 20,000 active cases of COVID-19, with the majority of these cases being variants of concern. By the end of the week, we will have more people in ICU, a lagging indicator, than we did at the peak in December,” Schilling said.
Adding, “The virus has adapted, and yet the government’s plan to protect students and staff largely has not.”
Schilling believes the biggest factor impacting COVID-19 in schools is COVID-19 in the community.
“Government must take stronger action to prevent the spread across society,” Schilling said.
“Despite the suggestion from the minister that only a small proportion of students and staff are affected by COVID, everyone is feeling the impacts of COVID-related quarantining, disruption, and limitations,” Schilling said.
Schilling says additional support is needed for school-based administrators and office staff as they are inundated by tracing positive cases, and an adequate supply of substitute teachers is not available.
“Substitute teachers who are required to quarantine or isolate as a result of potential exposure or infection from the school environment are left without income or health benefits,” Schilling said.
Schilling is calling for the government to implement a clear and transparent system of triage for schools in which schools in some areas are closed for a period of time, others are bolstered with enhanced safety measures and supports, and the rest continue to operate as they have been.
“Contrary to national recommendations, Alberta teachers and school staff continue to be left off the priority list for Phase 2 vaccinations,” Schilling said.
He added, “Many of these concerns were identified and flagged by the Association regularly over the past year, but have gone unaddressed.”
If the COVID-19 concerns within schools go unaddressed, Schilling believes schools will shut down.
“The current situation is an unprecedented crisis that if left unaddressed will inevitably result in the shutdown of all schools,” Schilling said.
According to the results from a random selection of over 1,700 teachers and school leaders surveyed, teachers feel overwhelmingly exhausted, stressed, and unhappy.
Schilling is worried the education system is on the verge of collapse, either as a result of COVID-19 or as a result of the overburdening of the school staff.
As a result, Schilling called on the education minister to convene an urgent meeting of education stakeholders in order to discuss the needs of schools amid the third wave of the pandemic in the province.