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Alberta Teachers’ Association president meeting with education minister over ‘serious problems’ with school re-entry plan

Click to play video 'Hundreds of Alberta teachers voice concerns with fall fast approaching' Hundreds of Alberta teachers voice concerns with fall fast approaching
Jason Schilling, the president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, joins Global News Calgary with details on the Annual Representative Assembly, which saw teachers debate some hot button education issues.

The Alberta Teachers’ Association and the province’s education minister are meeting on Wednesday to discuss concerns with re-entry into schools this fall.

According to the province, ATA president Jason Schilling and education minister Adriana LaGrange spoke on Saturday morning and set up a meeting for this week.

Read more: Alberta curriculum review panel lacking diversity, appropriate voices: critics

The meeting between Schilling and LaGrange follows the 2020 Annual Representative Assembly (ARA), where 450 teachers representing Alberta’s 61 school divisions met virtually and moved an emergent motion of non-confidence in LaGrange.

The motion was referred to the ATA’s executive council after debate ran early into Saturday morning, according to ATA officials.

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The ATA said teachers believe there are “serious problems” with the government’s plan for returning to school amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Schilling, who appeared on Global News Morning on Saturday, said teachers are concerned with distancing in classrooms, class sizes, rapid testing for teachers and substitute teachers.

“How do we social distance when we have classes (with sizes) that are in the 30s and 40s — that’s a major concern for teachers,” Schilling said.

“They’re worried about social distancing, they’re worried about being able to keep their students apart in the classroom that is a safe distance.”

Alberta government spokesperson Kassandra Kitz said the province’s re-entry plan for schools was developed on the advice from Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and included consultation with school boards, the ATA and superintendents.

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“Our number one priority is to ensure a safe and successful return to school for both our staff and students,” Kitz said in a statement. “We will continue working with the education system and the chief medical officer of health to ensure that happens.”

Read more: Coronavirus: Calgary public schools mandate masks for all K-12 students, teachers for fall semester

Schilling said Alberta should consider delaying the start of the fall semester if schools are unable to meet the parameters laid out by provincial health officials in the re-entry plan.

“We should possibly look at what B.C. did and delay the start of students to ensure that staff have time to make sure they’re prepared; especially when it comes to safety protocols,” Schilling said.

B.C. government officials announced this week that the school year in that province would be delayed by two days to allow for students and staff to adjust the new health and safety measures in place.

Read more: Coronavirus cases spiked in reopened U.S. schools. Should Canadians be concerned?

The ATA has laid out seven priorities in a plan for safe re-entry into schools, including improvements to ventilation and air filtration in schools, protection for high-risk students and staff, smaller classes, and more funding for PPE and cleaning supplies and daytime caretaking staff.

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The ATA’s plan proposes a multi-stakeholder working group which would include teachers, parents, superintendents and trustees as well as Alberta Education and public health officials, to advise on operating standards and policy direction to respond to changing research amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Representatives at the ATA also passed resolutions calling for reduced class sizes, increased support staff and mental health supports, as well as the placement of public health nurses in schools.