Parents, teachers and educational assistants rallied outside Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange’s office in Red Deer on Tuesday, protesting the province’s back-to-school plan as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on.
Protesters want LaGrange to rethink and fund a better plan for vulnerable Alberta kids to safely go back to school this fall, explaining that the current strategy doesn’t consider students with disabilities or complex learning needs.
Shantel Sherwood with the Hold My Hand Alberta advocacy group said one thing everyone can agree on is no child should be left behind.
“Our biggest concerns were the fact that we weren’t consulted, we weren’t asked and when they came up with these plans, there was no plan for our kids,” she said.
“It didn’t matter who you asked, there was no plan.”
The group’s requests include a delayed school year start for students except for kids who are disabled, in extenuating circumstances and of essential workers.
“We would like those students to be the first ones to go back to school,” Sherwood said.
“Let them get the lay of the land, and it helps the teachers adapt and get used to those students because those are the ones that are going to make it a little harder.”
Hold My Hand Alberta wants the plan to include emotional supports for students, adequate equipment, an effective online learning plan and funding for more educational assistants for students with complex needs.
“We’ve heard that the complex needs kids will still be going without a plan possibly until next week, but we have to give a re-entry answer by Friday. That’s impossible to do,” Sherwood said.
“How do we make an informed decision when we don’t have the information?”
Sherwood said students with special needs were left out of the plan in March.
“They cut the supports and everybody went, ‘Hopefully, it’s temporary.’ It’s not temporary, so now what? We need to be included,” she said.
Educational assistant Elaine Cardinal said there is “not going to be enough of us.”
“The government has taken a huge cut out of the funding of education and it’s always this group that gets hit first,” she said.
“These high-needs children, they need that support there. They need the wraparound services that should come with education. My concern is are all of our school boards in Alberta prepared and ready for re-entry?”
Education minister’s response
In a statement to Global News, LaGrange’s office said student safety and well-being “has guided all decision-making around school re-entry since we first cancelled in-person classes in March.”
“We understand that Albertans want what is best for their children as they return to school this fall, and that is why we continue to follow the expert medical advice of our chief medical officer of health, who approved our school re-entry plan,” the statement read.
“The plan also has support from our school superintendents and school boards and was developed in consultation with the education system. We will continue to work with Dr. [Deena] Hinshaw and our education system and will adjust our guidelines as necessary.”
LaGrange was not in her office Tuesday but is scheduled to meet with the Alberta Teachers’ Association on Wednesday as the union lays out teachers’ concerns about re-entry.
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