School staff are working double – sometimes triple – after the UCP creates a new regulation that forces school boards to ensure all students have access to personalized learning, no matter how high the absence rate.
A continued spate of respiratory illnesses — which caused Alberta Children’s Hospital to park a trailer outside the emergency this week to wait for overflow — is driving high absenteeism among students and staff in Calgary schools, forcing some students to transfer. steps to online learning.
And just a week after the UCP government announced a new scheme ensuring all students have access to classroom learning, the Calgary Board of Education reports that more than 1,200 teaching and support staff positions are needed.
Jason Schilling, president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, said schools now face even more obstacles in supporting students, with staff still lagging behind in schools and learning both online and in person, while taking on sick colleagues’ students .
“If the government thinks this new regulation is a solution for students, it actually creates more problems, it exacerbates them,” Schilling said.
“Lessons went online primarily because the school boards operationally just don’t have the staff to run the classrooms.
“And this new requirement means that teachers are conducting both online and in-person parts for their students, as well as covering for colleagues who may be sick.
“So they actually work double, sometimes triple.”
Schilling explained that teachers who may have most of their students sick, but a handful still healthy, now have to be in class during the day to give face-to-face lessons.
But outside of school hours, Schilling added, those same teachers need to connect with students who want to learn at home and make sure they understand concepts, have lesson plans and have the technology they need.
And when teachers themselves get sick, students are moved to other already-crowded classrooms where students can learn other concepts, or even in a different classroom, Schilling said.
“All this also affects learning and makes it difficult for students who still face so many disruptions.”
Last week, Prime Minister Danielle Smith and Education Secretary Adriana LaGrange announced two new ordinances, one that would prevent school boards from making masks mandatory, and another that would ensure school boards provide personalized learning opportunities for all students.
“Parents and students have told me time and time again that they want a normal school environment for their children. With that in mind, we’ve taken steps to protect and enhance educational choice. Families are free to make their own personal health decisions, and whatever that decision is, it will be supported by the Alberta education system,” Smith said.
LaGrange added that she too has received feedback from schools and families.
“I have heard from parents and students that they want stability, and from school boards that they want clarity. Securing a face-to-face classroom environment means that students can continue to learn successfully while their parents can work. It will also help maintain and improve student mental health while minimizing student learning loss.”
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But Stephen Clementpresident of the Alberta Teachers’ Association Local 38 which represents Calgary’s public school teachers, said the new rules will actually increase stress in the system and make learning even more challenging.
“I am stunned. I mean, you can’t just copy teachers,” Clements said.
“We heard our own supervisor say just two weeks ago that online learning is something that maybe has to happen because we just don’t have enough staff, and in the worst case we might have to teach some kids online a few times. to dawn.
“And now we hear we can’t.”
Clements said this fall has already been incredibly tough, with the CBE welcoming a huge influx of new students and teachers expected to roll out a new curriculum for K-to-6 students.
“How can teachers ensure that all learning outcomes of this new curriculum are met when so many children and staff are away because of illness?
“We hear every day that teachers internally cover colleagues who are sick, we constantly combine the lessons. And there’s no safety net like we used to have during COVID, when the CMOH (Chief Medical Officer of Health) could at least say we need masks, or we can go online.
“That’s gone now, and this administration continues to try to move forward as if it were business as usual.”
Medeana Moussa, spokeswoman for the advocacy group Support Our Students, called the new UCP regulations politically grand, at a time when students continue to face disruption and learning loss.
“There is nothing normal about the school environment that this government has created by not investing in schools and not investing in health and safety measures,” said Moussa, explaining that underfunding has led to large classes and a lack of staff, which is contagious. diseases worsen. .
“Parents continue to struggle and do what they can to make sure their children stay healthy and don’t miss school.
“And where is the CBE’s advocacy? They stay in line and let the government do what they want, without standing up for students.”
CBE officials continue to monitor student absences, which this week showed an average 10 percent absenteeism among younger K-to-3 students.
Midway through the week, the CBE identified 1,212 positions requiring substitute teachers or temporary staff. Of these, 122 teaching jobs remained unfilled and 54 support staff vacancies were also unfilled.
In the Calgary Catholic School District, 49 of 117 schools had an absenteeism rate of 10 percent or more, compared to the previous week’s 46, and 93 staff positions remained unfilled.
Neither school board would provide a detailed strategy on how they will handle a high rate of staff absences and how the new regulations will affect learning, saying only that they continue to follow their guidance from the county.