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Commentary: Restart stakes couldn’t be higher

Classes resume this week

The restart of schools in Alberta six months after closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic marks an important milestone for students, teachers, staff, parents and the province as a whole.

Starting last week, students are back in classes on a staggered schedule with the intention to have classes resume on a regular schedule by the end of the week.

Whether the return will be permanent or temporary will depend if there are outbreaks of the virus in classes in the coming days and how the government chooses to respond should such outbreaks occur.

And while everyone is hoping for the best, only time will tell whether the UCP government’s decision to reopen schools at this time will be seen as a good move forward or a huge mistake that has endangered the lives of students and others.

For her part, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange says she has confidence in the re-opening plan.

“I understand that the return to in-class learning is not without risk of infection transmission,” said LaGrange. "In addition to seeking input from school authorities and education partners, the re-entry plan was reviewed and approved by Alberta Health, including the chief medical officer of health.”

Official education critic Sarah Hoffman does not share LaGrange’s optimism, saying the entire situation is fraught with danger for students, teachers and others.

“Education Minister Adriana LaGrange’s cuts mean we are sending kids into overcrowded classrooms during a pandemic,” said Hoffman. “It’s bad for their education, and it risks the safety of students, families, staff and communities.”

Albertans are prepared to accept the restart of schools, as long as it is and remains safe for everyone involved.

What would not be acceptable would be a situation where sometime down the road the chief medical officer of health calls for schools to close and the Kenney government chooses either to ignore that advice or to replace the officer with one prepared to toe the government line.

Such a move would certainly spark a political crisis of the first order.

Dan Singleton is an editor with The Albertan.