Ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter should fight for stu­dents or quit: Al­berta NDP

Calgary Herald - - CITY+REGION - LISA JOHN­SON li­john­son@post­media.com twitter.com/re­por­trix

EDMONTON If Al­berta Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Adri­ana La­grange won’t re­verse cuts to ed­u­ca­tion sup­port staff amid the COVID -19 cri­sis, she should quit, the Op­po­si­tion NDP said Mon­day.

Af­ter classes across the prov­ince were can­celled more than two weeks ago to help stop the spread of COVID-19, La­grange said fund­ing for school boards would not change.

But the prov­ince an­nounced Satur­day it would tem­po­rar­ily cut $128 mil­lion in fund­ing for ed­u­ca­tional as­sis­tants, sub­sti­tute teach­ers, bus driv­ers and other work­ers dur­ing the COVID-19 pan­demic.

Many stu­dents who have al­ready been neg­a­tively af­fected by COVID -19 were re­ly­ing on sup­port from those af­fected work­ers. In the Prairie Rose School Divi­sion, bus driv­ers un­der con­tract stepped up to de­liver school nu­tri­tion ham­pers to kids stuck at home — a move high­lighted in the leg­is­la­ture by La­grange on March 17.

NDP ed­u­ca­tion critic Sarah Hoff­man said it is La­grange’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to fight in Pre­mier Ja­son Ken­ney’s UCP cab­i­net on be­half of vul­ner­a­ble stu­dents.

“The gov­ern­ment has sent a mes­sage to these kids, and to their par­ents, that they don’t mat­ter right now,” Hoff­man said at a news con­fer­ence Mon­day.

The Al­berta Teach­ers’ Associatio­n es­ti­mated that around 6,000 sub­sti­tute teach­ers and up to 20,000 sup­port staff will be af­fected by the cuts.

Rather than be­ing re­dun­dant, these work­ers were step­ping up and work­ing hard to help stu­dents nav­i­gate rapid change with the sup­ports they needed, Hoff­man said.

The money will be redi­rected to the front-line COVID -19 re­sponse un­til in-per­son classes re­sume, a state­ment from La­grange’s press sec­re­tary, Colin Aitchi­son, said Mon­day.

It will be up to school author­i­ties to de­ter­mine how staffing will be af­fected, he said.

“They will con­sider how they are de­liv­er­ing at-home learn­ing in their com­mu­ni­ties and take ac­tion based on their own cir­cum­stances,” he said.

School author­i­ties have been given the flex­i­bil­ity to di­rect their nu­tri­tion pro­gram fund­ing to not­for-profit or­ga­ni­za­tions to con­tinue this ser­vice for their fam­i­lies, Aitchi­son said.

Jes­sica Kew­ley, who ap­peared with Hoff­man via video-con­fer­ence, said teach­ing as­sis­tants were de­vel­op­ing a sup­port plan for all four of her chil­dren with spe­cial needs when Kew­ley and other par­ents were “blind­sided” and “heart­bro­ken” by the news.

“When the min­is­ter said ear­lier that those sup­ports were go­ing to con­tinue, I took her at her word,” said Kew­ley.

That ad­di­tional sup­port was es­sen­tial to help­ing kids nav­i­gate the new sys­tem, she said.

Nancy King, a par­ent living in Fort Mc­mur­ray, said her Grade 12 daugh­ter has autism, Tourette’s syn­drome and anx­i­ety.

These dis­abil­i­ties and anx­i­eties have al­ways been bar­ri­ers, but ad­just­ing to an on­line learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment has been dif­fi­cult — some­times even crip­pling — for her daugh­ter, King said, also via video con­fer­ence. Ed­u­ca­tional as­sis­tants pro­vide one-on-one sup­port and spend hours re­search­ing mod­i­fi­ca­tions that make lessons ac­ces­si­ble to each stu­dent.

“This sup­port is needed by my daugh­ter now more than ever ... I find it alarm­ing that now we’re hav­ing key play­ers in our sup­port team dis­carded as though they’re not valu­able,” King said.

Teach­ers and other staff — such as speech-lan­guage pathol­o­gists, oc­cu­pa­tional ther­a­pists, men­tal health work­ers, fam­ily school li­ai­son work­ers and phys­io­ther­a­pists — will keep pro­vid­ing spe­cial­ized sup­ports and ser­vices, in con­sul­ta­tion with fam­i­lies, Aitchi­son said.

SHAUGHN BUTTS

Sarah Hoff­man, bot­tom right, the NDP’S ed­u­ca­tion critic, spoke with ed­u­ca­tional as­sis­tant Lee-ann Kalen by video con­fer­ence Mon­day and de­manded the Al­berta gov­ern­ment re­verse cuts to sup­port staff.

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