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Edmonton Catholic School Board to temporarily lay off more than 700 staff

Bishop Greschuk Catholic Elementary School in north Edmonton.
Bishop Greschuk Catholic Elementary School in north Edmonton. Global News

The Edmonton Catholic School Board says, as a result of funding cuts made by Alberta Education during the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, it is temporarily laying off 708 employees.

Staff were informed of the change on Thursday and the layoffs come into effect in two weeks, on April 30.

“On March 28, the provincial government announced funding cuts and divisions were asked to layoff educational assistants, replacement staff and other staff who are deemed non-essential while students are out of school,” the board’s statement read.

The funding cut from Alberta Education meant a $5.7 million loss for Edmonton Catholic Schools.

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

The vast majority of the employees are part of Unifor, including 479 educational assistants.

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Also impacted are therapeutic assistants (behavioural therapy, speech language and occupational therapy), media resources support staff, administrative support, licensed practical nurses and instructors in second languages, career and technology services and fine arts.

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A total of 17 behavioural specialists, psychologists, fitness instructors and youth coordinators are also being laid off.

“These employees are extremely valued and it is very difficult to issue layoff notices due to a provincial government reduction in funding,” board chair Laura Thibert said.

“The board’s expectation is that Alberta Education will restore funding as soon as classes resume.”

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

ECSB said 90 of the employees being laid off are funded through a federal grant called Jordan’s Principle, which also expires at the end of the month.

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The grant provided additional support to Indigenous students.

“Many of these employees are the first person students see each day and they are an important part of a student’s life,” acting superintendent Robert Martin said.

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The employees will be able to continue accessing their health benefits until the end of August, and the board says they should look into whether they qualify for employment insurance or the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

READ MORE: Kenney pledges $53M in mental health funding as Alberta sees no new COVID-19 deaths

 

In a statement to Global News, Colin Atichison, press secretary to the minister of education, said the funding decision was not taken lightly.

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“The unfortunate reality is that classes are not in session as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. While distance learning options are being utilized to varying degrees, these do not employ the same number of workers as when schools are physically in class.”

The Edmonton Public School Board was also impacted by the funding cuts.

“Our division continues to work through what the government funding reductions means for our division and staff,” the EPSB said in a statement. “At this time, we do not have any specific information to share about layoffs. We hope to have information available soon.”

Aitchison said all funding will be restored to “regular” levels when physical classes resume.