The principal of a Calgary high school had some strong words for Jason Kenney and his government’s handling of public education during the COVID-19 pandemic.
K-12 students were sent back to in-person learning at the start of September following the province’s school re-entry plan, even as new daily coronavirus cases were on the rise in Alberta.
The plan included the necessity of masks for students Grade 4 through 12 and placed an emphasis on cleaning, hygiene, and physical distancing whenever possible.
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Even with these precautions in place, a case of COVID-19 was detected at Bowness High School as early as September 5, with Bowness High School Principal Jana Macdonald publishing a letter to parents and guardians on the school’s website.
“We have been notified by Alberta Health Services (AHS) that a case of COVID-19 has been diagnosed in an individual from Bowness High School,” the letter reads.
“Our school remains open to in-person learning for all students, and we are working closely with AHS to ensure necessary measures continue to be in place to protect all staff and students. This includes cleaning and disinfecting all items touched by the individual, and removing and storing items that cannot be cleaned and disinfected (paper, books, etc.,) in a sealed container for a minimum of 10 days. Our Facilities staff has already enacted all cleaning protocols as directed by Environmental Public Health.”
Macdonald also noted that the parents/guardians of students who have been in close contact with the detected case would be contacted, with those students being directed to quarantine as a result.
Over the weekend, Macdonald also wrote a Facebook comment that touched on the issue, calling out Premier Jason Kenney and Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange for their “ignorant decisions” regarding the return to schools during the pandemic.
“I’m exhausted, devastated, furious, frustrated, scared, anxious, sad, and so many many more things all at once. This is the scenario I thought about all summer and here it is. My stafff, teachers, support staff, and caretakers have worked so hard to create a safe and welcoming space for students to learn,” Macdonald wrote in a post shared by Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley on Monday.
“This is the reality and we are only the first,” — a heartbreaking message from the principal of Calgary’s Bowness High School, where one class has been shut down due to a confirmed COVID-19 case.
“While this case was brought into our school from an outside source, I know people will now be afraid – the exact opposite of what schools should be for kids and school staff.
“I feel a very heavy load and I’ve never been more angry. This could have been avoided with the support of the government. We followed all the AHS guidelines. This is not my fault. This is your fault, Jason. This is your fault, Adriana. Why don’t you come and visit us this week to show your support? Wear a mask and sanitize your hands on the way in. I would love to have you sit in a typical classroom and follow a student for the day to understand the impact of your ignorant decisions. Speak directly to students. Speak directly to teachers. Ask the caretakers how they are doing (they have families too, you know). Talk to parents about the knots in their stomachs. Ask me how my school start up has been. This is reality and we are only the first.”
An August 28 update from the Province of Alberta noted that schools would be provided with two reuseable masks for every student, teacher, and staff member, a face shield for every teacher and staff member, two contactless thermometers, and 466,000 litres of hand sanitizer across the education system.
“Next week as schools begin re-opening their doors to their students, they will do so with the PPE they need to ensure the safety of their staff and students,” said LaGrange in the August release.
“This PPE, combined with Alberta’s robust school re-entry plan and health guidelines, will help support a successful return to school.”
The province also issued a release on September 2 noting that the federal government had allocated $262 million to Alberta in support of COVID-19-related expenses for school authorities, which would be used for additional staffing, adapting learning spaces, PPE, cleaning, special needs student support, and online learning.
The release stated that the funding would be allocated to schools on an equal per-student basis, with $12 million being specifically directed to helping school authorities that are seeing a higher enrollment in online learning programs.
However, a statement from Public Interest Alberta called on the provincial government to also offer up some additional funding alongside the $262 from the federal government, stating that class sizes in Alberta are still too large — even without a pandemic.
“Successive governments have underfunded our classrooms for years, leading to class sizes that are far too large with too few support staff,” said Joel French, Executive Director of Public Interest Alberta, in the statement.
“The problems that have come with chronic underfunding are even more serious as students head back to school in the midst of a pandemic. The Alberta government has failed to put forward any plan to address these problems and must immediately put in place both short-term and long-term measures to reduce class sizes and increase classroom supports.”
French noted that provincial governments in Manitoba, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Ontario had all allocated additional funding to their schools’ COVID safety plans.
“The Alberta government needs to do the same. This would be not only an investment in combating the pandemic and immediate public health concerns, but in the long-term health of our education system.”