The Alberta Teachers’ Association asked Education Minister Adriana LaGrange to delay the school year’s start at an in-person meeting Wednesday.
Both the ATA and LaGrange said the meeting — which was organized to discuss concerns around the school re-entry plans in the province — lasted over an hour.
“We put everything on the table and we had a fulsome discussion about things that are really of big concerns for teachers,” ATA president Jason Schilling said Wednesday.
Schilling said the association wants the start of the school year to be pushed until after Labour Day, to allow staff more time to adjust to the new normal.
“We’re taking a medical plan that’s been put forward by the chief medical officer of health, and trying to make it an education plan, and teachers and principals need the time to reconcile those two things together.”
“[Teachers] need time to get this right, and I would much rather be over prepared than under prepared for the start of the school.”
Schilling said the minister seemed open to hearing the concerns and suggestions.
In a statement released by LaGrange, she said her ministry is following advice from Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw.
“As always, my ministry, department officials and I are happy to meet our stakeholders to receive their input on this important matter,” her statement read.
“Ensuring the safety and well-being of our staff and students has guided all decision-making around school re-entry since we first cancelled in-person classes in March and we thank the ATA for their role in helping us develop the current school re-entry plan.
“We understand that parents and teachers across the province want a safe return to classes in the fall.”
LaGrange added that there may be adjustments made to the re-entry plan depending on the advice given by Hinshaw.
On Wednesday, teachers also joined together with three other unions ahead of the meeting to raise concerns about cleaning protocols in schools.
A joint statement from the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), and UNIFOR said the province needs to be providing more support in schools to allow for the cleaning protocols.
“We are concerned about the Government of Alberta’s deficient plan for school reopening,” the statement read. “As frontline workers, we know that the best way to keep the children safe is to have enough staff to do the work and to have these workers do the jobs for which they are trained.
“Schools do not have the funding required to increase staffing levels to ensure students, staff and their families remain safe.”
Schilling said now the groups will wait to see if the government announces any changes following the meeting.
“Whether they truly listened to what we had to say — that’s on them,” he said.
In B.C., the government announced earlier this month that it would be pushing back the school year start for students by several days after being urged to by groups in that province.
Alberta has mandated masks be worn in all common areas for students in Grade 4 and above, but not necessarily inside classrooms as long as they’re all sitting in their seats and facing forward. There’s also no cap on class sizes.
— With files from Tom Vernon, Global News