Education minister should fight for students or quit: Alberta NDP
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.
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.