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Lethbridge school boards face tough decisions: ‘Our educational assistants are integral’

Educational assistants, substitutes could be cut in Lethbridge schools after funding redirected
WATCH ABOVE: School employees in Lethbridge have been in a unique situation since schools closed their doors to students earlier in March. Now, they are having to make even harder decisions regarding what areas to cut amid a shift in provincial funding. Eloise Therien spoke with a local substitute teacher and the Lethbridge School Division to find out their plans.

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

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

“It seems like it is a tremendous shock to a lot of people,” said Clark Bosch, board chair of the Lethbridge School Division.

He says they were told in mid-March that funding would remain for the rest of the school year.

READ MORE: Alberta orders all classes cancelled, daycares closed as COVID-19 cases rise to 56 in the province

 

Bosch said they were asked to reduce staff by about 14 per cent, but a more specific number will be provided by Tuesday, and they aren’t providing specific instructions on which positions to let go.

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“They’re referring the decision-making, as to who is essential and who is not essential, to the school divisions,” he said.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Alberta school boards review fees amid temporary COVID-19 school closures

The funding that’s being adjusted would have been used for transportation, substitute teachers and educational assistants, all of which is being reduced while in-person classes remain cancelled, a news release said Saturday.

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“COVID-19 has changed both how we provide student learning, and the operational needs of the education system,” a statement from Education Minister Adriana LaGrange stated.

“I want to stress that this is a temporary arrangement as schools focus on at-home learning.”

The decision on what positions will be laid off or cut will be made by individual schools, said Colin Aitchison, the press secretary for the office of the minister of education. The UCP did not have an estimate of how many positions the funding changes would affect.

READ MORE: Alberta orders all classes cancelled, daycares closed as COVID-19 cases rise to 56 in the province

The Alberta Teachers’ Association says educational assistants “constitute part of what, in the education community, is known as support staff, a term designating personnel who help teachers carry out the educational mission of the school and who make the educational experiences of children more rewarding.”

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And, “Some support staff are highly qualified professionals who provide such specialized services to students as diagnostic testing, speech therapy and physical therapy.”

Alberta cuts $128M in K-12 education funding to boost COVID-19 response
Alberta cuts $128M in K-12 education funding to boost COVID-19 response

“I know it’s going to be incredibly difficult for a massive amount of people,” said substitute teacher Jonathan Miquel-Alvarez.

“I’m sure they’re feeling very left out in the cold.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Alberta students, parents adjust to class work being done online

The Holy Spirit Catholic School Division was unavailable for an interview Monday, but told Global News in an email it has been in close contact with Alberta Education officials and will update staff and stakeholders as soon as it knows more.

The Lethbridge School Division employs about 340 educational assistants and 220 substitute teachers.