As the provincial government announced further details last week of its plans to reopen schools in September, the stakes for students, teachers, staff and the community-at-large couldn’t possibly be higher.
With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing, and with many of the latest infections involving younger Albertans, the decision to reopen schools following months of closure is an unprecedented political move.
Whether returning to classes in less than a month’s time will end up being a positive or negative step for Alberta remains to be seen.
What is known is that with the pandemic continuing, the government’s decision to bring hundreds of thousands of students and others together following the lockdown must be considered a massive gamble.
Minister of Education Adrianna LaGrange says she is confident that the government’s return-to-class plans will keep students, teachers and staff safe going forward.
“We are determined to do everything that we can to safely return our students, teachers and staff to school,” said LaGrange. “We are providing clear and detailed guidelines and a re-entry tool kit so everyone can do their part and prepare for a safe return to school.”
Opposition leader Rachel Notley says the province needs to spend at least $1 billion on student and staff safety, funding for teachers and personal protective equipment, and safe transportation measures.
“September is approaching fast and we have heard from thousands of Albertans that they are worried about how they will be able to return to school safely,” said Notley. “Governing is about choices and priorities. Albertans have reportedly told us that children's safety must be a top priority.”
With students set to return to classes in just a month’s time, parents, guardians and others are no doubt watching the progress of the government’s plans for reopening with keen and searching interest.
Hopefully the provincial government will be prepared to do whatever is needed – even it that means walking back some of its plans if necessary – to ensure the health and welfare of Alberta’s students, teachers and staff.
Dan Singleton is an editor with The Albertan.