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Edmonton father concerned over decision to redirect education funding amid COVID-19 crisis

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WATCH: An Edmonton father is worried his daughter with special needs will fall behind after the Alberta government redirected millions in education funding amid the COVID-19 crisis. Nicole Stillger reports – Mar 29, 2020

Edmontonian Annika Froese loves learning and going to school.

READ MORE: Alberta reports 3rd death from COVID-19 as total cases hit 661

The seven-year-old Lendrum elementary student relies heavily on her two educational assistants.

She has a genetic condition called Rett syndrome, which affects her motor skills and speech.

“She’s not able to walk and not able to talk but she’s cognitively entirely there — just kind of trapped in her body,” her father Duane Froese explained.

“[Her EAs] work effectively with her at both translating the curriculum and sort of helping her with the curriculum.”
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When classes were cancelled about two weeks ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Annika’s education continued at home — online.

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Froese said Annika’s EAs work with her every day.

“There’s this perception that the kids aren’t in school, that these people aren’t working and they shouldn’t be getting paid,” Froese said.

“These people are still working. They are still constantly in contact with families and these kids, working with these kids.”

Alberta’s UCP government announced Saturday it would be redirecting $128 million in funding initially slotted for K-12 schools into the province’s COVID-19 response, following the cancellation of all in-person classes on March 15.

That funding would have been used for educational assistants, substitute teachers, transportation and other services not in use while schools are closed.

READ MORE: Alberta government redirects school funding into COVID-19 response; NDP calls move ‘unconscionable’

“I want to stress this is a temporary arrangement as schools focus on at-home learning,” Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said in a statement Saturday.

“I have full confidence the system will continue to be equipped to successfully deliver our education continuity plan.”

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The president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association said Sunday they were blindsided by the announcement.

“We were told two weeks ago there would be no interruption to the funding, that it would be maintained the way it is,” Jason Schilling said.

“To say it’s temporary, we’ll have to hold the government on its word, but they’ve shown a lack of leadership when they could have done better by the thousands of Albertans affected by this decision.”

Schilling said the Canadian Union of Public Employees estimates there are more than 25,000 workers that will be affected.

As for the Froeses, they said the support Annika receives from EAs is critical. They worry that without them, and the added challenge of being isolated at home, she’ll fall behind.

“She’s in Grade 2 right now, which seems pretty young,” Froese said.

“But these are really foundational moments with reading, mathematics and just pure socialization.”