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Alberta school boards already have ‘flexibility’ on fall restart date: education minister

Click to play video: 'Alberta Teachers’ Association requests school year delay at meeting with education minister' Alberta Teachers’ Association requests school year delay at meeting with education minister
WATCH (Aug. 19): The Alberta Teachers' Association asked Education Minister Adriana LaGrange to delay the school year's start at an in-person meeting Wednesday. Tom Vernon has the details – Aug 19, 2020

Alberta’s education minister says individual school boards already have “autonomy and flexibility” when it comes to starting in-person classes this fall.

In a statement Friday, Adriana LaGrange said the province’s school re-entry plan, as it’s currently written, “provides school boards with the ability to delay or stagger school start dates should they decide that is in their local best interest.”

Read more: Alberta Teachers’ Association requests school year delay at meeting with education minister

On Wednesday, LaGrange met with The Alberta Teachers’ Association, which asked her to delay the school year’s start.

ATA president Jason 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 and enact recommendations put forward by the chief medical officer of health.

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Click to play video: 'Alberta teachers concerned about returning to school in the fall' Alberta teachers concerned about returning to school in the fall
Alberta teachers concerned about returning to school in the fall – Jul 22, 2020

In her statement, LaGrange said she agreed to “further engage with education partners” after this meeting “and get their views on this ATA request.”

Read more: B.C. students to return to the classroom by Sept. 10, a two-day delay to the start of school

The education minister said follow-up discussions were had with both the Alberta School Boards Association and the College of Alberta School Superintendents.

“These partners remain confident, as do I, that the school re-entry plan already provides local school authorities with the autonomy and flexibility to ensure local needs are met and to prepare schools for a safe re-entry,” LaGrange’s statement said.

Read more: Alberta K-12 students to head back to classroom this fall

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In a joint statement shared on Twitter Friday, the ASBA and CASS clarified that school divisions have already been planning for fall classes and that boards have freedom to “set their school calendars and other start-up processes to support implementation of new routines and protocols.”

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“All school divisions have made operational adjustments and are expecting to make refinements as necessary throughout the school year.

“At this time, a province-wide adjustment may serve as a disruption to existing school board plans already in place.”

ASBA and CASS said their organizations will continue working closely with their partners and schools, monitoring and addressing any challenges that may arise throughout the year.

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“Ultimately, I’m frustrated by the fact that the responsibility of being able to delay the re-opening of schools was kicked to school boards,” ATA president Jason Schilling said Friday.

“Now my attention has gone to school boards, and saying: ‘Will you listen to individual schools, staff, principals, that are saying we need more time before we receive students?’ and if they’ll give them more time.”

Schilling acknowledged the education minister kept her word to speak with superintendents and school boards about the ATA’s request to delay the start of school. Schilling said LaGrange called him Friday morning with an update as well.

“We were listened to. But the result… I keep hearing from teachers and principals saying they need more time to make sure protocols that they’ve received for implementing COVID safety protocols, they just need more time to sit down as a staff and work through how that will look in their schools…. how students arrive in the building, where they sit, what they do at lunch, at recess.”

“School boards do have that autonomy,” Schilling said. “I’m just wondering if they’re going to be exercising that autonomy.

“We can’t absolve the people who are ultimately responsible for that decision, and that is government, about this school re-entry plan.”

Read more: Symptoms, confirmed cases and outbreaks: How Alberta plans to handle COVID-19 in schools

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LaGrange also said she reviewed the planned re-entry dates for Alberta schools and she sees “time is clearly available to allow teachers to prepare for re-entry before their students arrive.”

The timelines were created by school boards, the education minister said, following Dr. Hinshaw’s advice.

Still, she said she’ll continue to encourage boards to use the flexibility available to them “to adjust their plans if necessary.”

Edmonton Public told Global News its classes will start Sept. 3 but in some cases, schools will stagger entry to “orient students to new safety protocols.”

According to spokesperson Lori Nagy, Edmonton Catholic School Board’s “target date and planning has always been focused on classes resuming on September 2nd so we will continue to work towards that date.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta-wide protests against fall school re-entry plan' Alberta-wide protests against fall school re-entry plan
Alberta-wide protests against fall school re-entry plan – Aug 21, 2020

Also on Friday, rallies were taking place across the province with participants urging the government to allocate more money to schools to prepare for a safer fall re-launch.

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Read more: Rallies across Alberta call for more school funding ahead of fall return

This includes more funding for personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer. They’re also asking for funding to accommodate reduced class sizes.

Protests are being held outside of the constituency offices of MLAs in nearly 30 ridings across the province.

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