Three months since students returned to school, concerns on how our educational system has been able to keep students, teachers and their families safe have remained at the forefront.
According to Adriana La Grange, Alberta’s Minister of Education, the stats and numbers are promising in how school divisions have been able to manage safety across the province.
Since the pandemic began, the Government of Alberta has provided funding in a variety of areas including $10 million for personal protective equipment and sanitization support, $120 million in operational funding, and $250 million in enhanced infrastructure maintenance and renewal funding.
The Alberta government has also authorized access for school divisions to access $363 million dollars in their reserve funds and has helped secure federal funding support of up to $263 million.
“In total right now, there’s over a billion dollars that school divisions have, above their typical allocations, to ensure that the schools are safe,” says La Grange. “We continue to work with all our education partners on a day-to-day basis, helping them through various issues that arise.”
With the funding available to school divisions, La Grange says it’s important to maintain clear lines of communication between teachers to reach out to their employers and work together to continue to manage the situation during the pandemic.
Teachers have been working through increasing workloads complicated by necessary public health leaves for staff and students who may have been COVID exposed. This ultimately results in teachers requiring assistants or substitutes to help manage the workload and deliver education for students in school and at home.
“Ultimately the school divisions are the employers of the teachers and they need to be dealing with the situations for their local environments,” explains La Grange. “It varies right across the province - There are areas where there are more hotspots than other areas.”
La Grange says that school divisions can access the billion dollars available in funding, but need to be responsible for looking at day-to-day situations and implement what is required to support teachers.
“I know it is a stressful time and we appreciate the wonderful work that our teachers are doing and that our administrators are doing,” says La Grange. “They have had to deal with situations that have never happened before in education.”
As the pandemic progresses, calls for further lockdowns across the province could impact how schools operate, but right now La Grange says they will take a targeted approach when making those decisions for schools.
From over 2,400 schools, La Grange states nine schools have had to go into a short-term operational change due to the availability of substitute teachers and managing logistics, but those schools are mostly back to in-class learning.
As of November, La Grange says about 1,000 students and staff have tested positive for COVID-19 and of those individuals the government has seen a very low transmission rate within schools. Out of 800,000 students and staff, this results in a 0.1% rate of infection.
“That means 99.9% do not have COVID within our schools,” says La Grange. “So we’re really proud of the fact that our schools are following the guidelines and ensuring that we can provide in-class learning to those attending in a very safe manner.”
For those concerned with how schools are managing safety, La Grange encourages reaching out and having conversations with teachers and school administrators to review health protocols in place.
“We as an education system working together, partnering with our parents, teachers, administrators and the broader community - we can ensure that our children continue to remain in safe schools,” says La Grange.
“That is our number one priority and it will always be our number one priority.”