Alberta Opposition Leader Rachel Notley ripped into the province's re-start of schools Thursday, labelling it as a 'reckless' plan that puts families at risk.
"Schools closed in March. (Premier) Jason Kenney and his ministers have had six months to develop a plan and set aside the resources that schools need to keep students, staff and families safe, but they failed to do any of these things," she said.
"On Tuesday, instead what we heard was the premier going, 'Well, COVID-19 outbreaks in schools are always inevitable, and spending money to prevent them just isn't worth it.'
"That kind of attitude is unacceptable. Albertans don't accept tht kind of attitude when it comes to continuing care facilities. They don't accept it when it comes to their workplaces — and we don't need to accept it when it comes to our schools."
Notley disputed Kenney's cost estimates to keep classrooms safe.
"We should also not accept the UCP's dishonesty about how much safe school re-entry would cost," she said. "Our plan, the one that was introduced by our critic Sarah Hoffman six weeks ago, would cost just under $1 billion. Jason Kenney and the UCP are arguing ridiculous numbers that are far more than that."
Notley added that school systems in the province are already under financial strain due to cutbacks that have reduced their funding — by $341 per student for the Calgary Catholic School Board and $701 per student for the Calgary Board of Education.
Teachers available for work
NDP Education Critic Sarah Hoffman said Kenney's concerns about finding additional teachers and spaces to create a safe re-entry for schools were red herrings.
"We found unemployed teachers and educational assistants right across the province," she said. "Some of them are part of the 20,000 education workers that were laid off by the government earlier in the year.
"They're available for work and if they have a safe situation and a contract, they're absolutely willing to step up to the call."
Hoffman added that additional classrooms could be found at existing schools, at post-secondary institutions such as SAIT and the University of Calgary, at community associations, places of worship and in community buildings - "buildings that the provincial government already owns that could be converted very easily into classroom space."
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange's press spokesperson, Colin Atchison, responding to Notley and Hoffman, said "It is clear that Sarah Hoffman and the NDP's goal is to stoke fear and cause anxiety amongst the general public in an effort to score political points.
"All the NDP have done since the beginning of this pandemic," he added, "is try to undermine public health officials and continuously shift their own narrative to continue raising fear with the public. It's shameful behavior that needs to end."
The statements came as Alberta Teachers Association president Jason Schilling continues to advocate on social media for more resources and supports for the province's largest school divisions to allow them to reduce the size of their largest classes.
Teachers and the ATA have never advocated for reducing class sizes by half (to 15). What we would like to see are more resources and supports provided to school divisions and principals so they can reduce the size of our largest classes. /1— jason schilling (@schill_dawg) September 1, 2020