Alberta parents call province’s back-to-school plan unsafe, push for changes

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Alberta parents call back-to-school plan unsafe, push for changes
WATCH: We're about a month away from kids in Alberta heading back to school. Now a group of Alberta parents is criticizing the province's back to school plan, calling it unsafe. Nicole Stillger has more on what they plan to do about it – Aug 2, 2020

Some Alberta parents are criticizing the province’s school reopen plan, calling it unsafe.

Now they plan on letting the government know how they feel, starting a group called the “Wall of Alberta Moms and Dads.”

“It’s such a lazy response that it should make anyone with a child in school or with a friend who’s a teacher absolutely furious,” organizer David Gray said Sunday.

“Our intention is to put the heat on this government to do the right thing and protect our kids.”

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Gray said his late wife was a teacher for 30 years at a junior high school.

“Every year, she would come home with a new cold, flu and pneumonia,” he explained. “There’s no way they’re going to keep kids safe inside of schools.”

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Co-organizer Daphne Simkin has two children in high school, both with health issues.

“I 100 per cent back the idea of children going back to school, but only in a safe environment,” she said.

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The group said it plans to use all social media channels to get their concerns across.

“We want the government to know that there are hundreds of thousands of parents willing to write letters, write emails, phone MLAs, phone ministers and take to the streets to protect our kids,” Gray said.

“I think it’s resonating very deeply with all families in Alberta,” Simkin added.

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They are calling on the government to reduce class sizes and increase spending.

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“Everyone I’ve talked to as a parent is absolutely mortified at what they’re doing,” Gray said.

Earlier this week, Premier Jason Kenney stood behind the back-to-school plan, saying school boards will be able to access their reserve funding if needed.

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“We put out $15 billion in fiscal action to support people through the depths of the crisis. But, at the end of the day, money doesn’t grow on trees. We cannot lock ourselves into a situation where governments have unlimited borrowing for an unlimited period of time,” Kenney said in an exclusive interview with Global News on July 29.

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In a statement Sunday, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange’s press secretary told Global News that “any adjustments will be based on public health advice.”

“Minister LaGrange understands that parents and education staff may have concerns about returning to school. That is why ensuring the safety and well-being of all of our staff and students [have] guided all decision-making around school re-entry since we first cancelled in-person classes in March,” Colin Aitchison said.
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“We continue to follow the expert medical advice of our chief medical officer of health, who approved our school re-entry plan, and will continue to work with Dr. Hinshaw and our education system to adjust our guidelines as necessary.”

A group of educators and parents has also penned an open letter to Kenney and LaGrange, also raising concerns about the current plan.

“At the moment, due to the minimal offer of resources like guaranteed Personal Protective Equipment and no effort to cap class sizes, the Alberta government’s plan for schools re-opening strikes us as an experiment that renders the lives of children and school staff disposable.

Dia Da Costa, who co-penned the letter and is an education professor at the University of Alberta, said Monday that educators and students deserve a safe learning environment.

“Teachers want to go back and teach children,” Da Costa said. “From what I can tell, there’s a lot of eagerness… But we have to support them in their demand for the safe working conditions. 

“It’s also important to have a public letter that allows people to see that they are not each alone in their worries and their circumstance and their interpretation of the situation,” he said.

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With about a month left until students and teachers return to the classroom, organizers of the Wall of Alberta Moms and Dads said that’s plenty of time to make changes.

“This is a huge challenge. I think it’s time that Albertans all come together [and] put together a plan that we all feel confident about,” said Simkin.

–With files from Allison Bench, Global News

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