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Local MLAs excited about reopening Alberta schools

Last Updated Jul 22, 2020 at 2:20 pm MDT

UCP members Laila Goodridge (left) and Tany Yao were all smiles as they and their party were elected to form the next Alberta government. Photo taken by Nathalia Cordeau-Hilliard

The Alberta government announced the reopening of schools in September.

Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Tany Yao said he isn’t the only one excited to see kids heading back to school.

“Kids are looking forward to getting back to school. I heard from some parents who are very excited to get kids back to school. It’s certainly a testament to how our province has dealt with the COVID-19 response.”

Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche MLA Laila Goodridge said she also shares in the excitement.

“We know that students who attend school learn best when they’re in the classroom and our comprehensive reentry plan really allows students to return to school while maintaining the health of the staff, teachers, and the students.”

Schools across the province will re-open under ‘Scenario 1’ of the reentry plan.

RELATED: Alberta reveals COVID-19 Back-To-School strategy

Scenario 1

This scenario calls for near-normal daily operations with health measures such as physical distancing and hand sanitizers in classrooms and school entrances.

Goodridge said the Alberta government set aside funds to cover the cost of COVID-19 mitigation.

“Every school division in Alberta is receiving an increase in operational funding, [which is] roughly $120-million across the entire province. These additional funds can help with these mitigation measures.”

She added school authorities allocated $15-million of their accelerated capital maintenance and renewal funding.

Goodridge said that money will help shape the learning environment post-COVID-19.

Yao credits the completion of a pilot project with Calgary’s Catholic school system with aiding in the decision.

He said summer schooling in the city was successful.

“They were able to get the kids finishing the school year, while maintaining low numbers of COVID-19. That’s really comforting to know that they did a pilot and they saw success.”

While it is only one scenario, Yao said the provincial government will adapt its plan as situations develop.

The Alberta Union of Public Employees (AUPE) inquired about the province’s substitute teachers and support staff.

RELATED: FMPSD reacts to funding cuts

When schools closed in March, the province laid off 6000 substitute teachers and 20,000 support staffers, some of whom were AUPE members.

“If schools are to reopen, each and every worker who lost their job as a result of the pandemic deserves to have it back.” Said AUPE Vice-President Mike Dempsey.

Both Goodridge and Yao said school divisions will make those operational decisions like hirings and forming cohort groups.

Some parents expressed concern about COVID-19 and the wearing of facemasks.

Chief medical officer of health, Dr Deena Hinshaw said she strongly encourages the use of facemasks.

To date, the policy is not mandatory across all of Alberta’s public spaces.

Goodridge said the increase in public awareness contributed to the reentry program.

“The number of public health measures that have been put in our plan include more frequent surface cleaning, placing hand sanitizers at entrances of classrooms, grouping students in cohorts, and allow for more social distancing will go a long way in protecting our students.”

Yao said it’s a tough issue, but he credits the public response in the initial stages of the pandemic.

“The province was prepared. We had some very good people in key positions [and they] were able to secure things like masks early on before the hype created a shortage.”

He said the Alberta government along with school boards will address any situations in a reasonable fashion.

More information on the government of Alberta’s education reentry toolkit is available on the province’s website.