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UCP goes after teachers for safety concerns in schools


‘We want a return to normal too, but we are concerned about the speed of which this is happening,’ said ATA president Jason Schilling

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The UCP government is attacking teachers for raising safety concerns and exploring their legal options around unsafe workplaces and classrooms if students are not masked.

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With schools still receiving some of the 16 million masks shipped out by the UCP to reduce COVID transmission, teachers and parents were caught off guard this week when Premier Jason Kenney announced K-12 students would no longer be required to wear masks in schools starting next Monday.

The Alberta Teachers’ Association met with over 500 members in the Central North Thursday, discussing government policy and how teachers were caught off guard by the speed at which the UCP changed its tune on the importance of masking.

“We want a return to normal too, but we are concerned about the speed of which this is happening,” said ATA president Jason Schilling.

“We were never consulted and school boards were never consulted.”

Schilling said earlier this week the union will explore its legal options, and that teachers are encouraged to make complaints through Alberta Occupational Health and Safety if they feel their work environment is unsafe when kids are not masked.

Kenney posted a video on social media late Wednesday criticizing teachers, saying “they think that kids who are not wearing masks are somehow unsafe, looking at them not as kids but as vectors of viral transmission.”

Kenney added “don’t you dare treat kids as though they are unsafe.”

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And early Thursday, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange also posted a video making the same argument.

“Children pose absolutely no threat to teachers, and for teachers to say they do is unscientific, it’s divisive and it’s cruel.”

But Amanda Hu, spokeswoman for Fresh Air Network which advocates for cleaner air in schools, argued there is no scientific basis in stating kids pose no threat in transmitting COVID.

“All humans are vectors of transmission. It’s just a fact. Any person who is susceptible to a virus can then transmit that virus, including a child.”

Hu added people who are not vaccinated can also shed more of a viral load, meaning they are at an even higher risk of transmitting the virus.

“And we know, in this province, there are still many children who are not yet vaccinated.

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“So it’s a real misdirection to suggest there is some sort of a moral judgement on a child, when you say they are vectors of transmission.

“It’s simply just true, without judgement.”

Amanda Hu has been advocating for HEPA filters in CBE classrooms in Calgary. Photo taken on Wednesday, November 10, 2021.
Amanda Hu has been advocating for HEPA filters in CBE classrooms in Calgary. Photo taken on Wednesday, November 10, 2021. Photo by Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

Parents and teachers say many kids are expected to still wear their masks to school on Monday, concerned they might transmit the virus to vulnerable family members, friends and teachers.

Others worry students wearing masks may be bullied or stigmatized, although both the CBE and the CCSD have vowed to ensure they will be supported.

“It’s really unfortunate that masks have become so polarized and politicized,” Schilling added.

“They’re simply a tool to prevent COVID, for us to keep each other safe. But now they’ve become this political firestorm.

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“We need to take the heat out of that and step back and do this at a pace that makes sense that doesn’t cause the kind of anxiety that we are seeing.”

Under the new provincial rules, masking will be optional for K-12 students starting Monday while school-based staff will still be required to wear masks.

Calgary school districts will not say whether they will ask the province for an exemption, especially in crowded buildings like high schools.

If cases continue to come down, the province has said all health restrictions, including masking for teachers, will be removed by March 1.

eferguson@postmedia.com

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