A ‘hopeful’ strategy for school re-opening

Written by Brenda Schimke

The most critical foundational investment any government can make is in education. 

Accessible and supported pre-school to post-secondary has the largest economic payback to any country. It is predictive of future productivity, economic growth, a healthy citizenry, safer society and fewer societal ills.

Since October 2019, I’ve been keeping a running tally of the announced cuts or increases to public education budgets. They show the aggregate operating budget supporting public education has been slashed by $109.1 million when compared to September 2019, even as the system was projected to welcome 15,000 more students.

The $109.1 million dollar estimate may not be exact, but it’s close enough to explain why thousands of educational assistants and hundreds of teachers were laid off since last September and why class sizes in Alberta are the largest on record.

On-line, home-schooling is not a successful strategy—kids need more than book learning and isolation—they need the social development that organically occurs when sharing space and time with others different than themselves.

Premier Kenney and Education Minister LaGrange chose not to consult or construct their return-to-school strategy with any input from the Alberta Teachers Association. This group represents 43,500 front-line teachers responsible for the education of 741,802 students. 

Kenney keeps saying they consulted the “education system”—what the heck is that if it’s not the majority of teachers responsible for the education of the majority of students?

Lorrie Jess, President of the School Board Association in an interview on Alberta Primetime said, “The government will make decisions on class sizes, and school boards will have to react accordingly.” 

That’s not how you advocate for students—that’s simply capitulation. ‘Yes, Master Kenney, whatever you say we’ll do our best!’  

That part of “the education system” isn’t doing the fight necessary for our children, and we all know that homeschoolers and private educators have oversized influence in the UCP government, even though these groups represent less than three-quarters of one per cent of the total student population.

The government’s reopening plan for schools is a hopeful one. Hopeful that packing 25 to 40 kids in small classrooms with poor ventilation and windows that often don’t open is a winning strategy. 

Hopeful that teachers and school staff are superhuman and won’t catch the virus. 

Hopeful that accepting some of Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s recommendations will be enough. 

Hopeful that children won’t spread the virus to vulnerable adults at home. 

Hopeful that teachers, with fewer or no educational assistants this year, can keep up with regular hand washing, mask-wearing and social distancing in large, crowded classrooms. 

Hopeful that school boards can scrape together enough money to enhance cleaning and improve ventilation. 

Hopeful that pregnant teachers won’t have their fetuses negatively affected. 

Hopeful the virus will just go away and we can all go back to the ‘good old days’. 

Delusional that substitute teachers, moving through different classrooms and schools daily won’t be prime spreaders of the virus.

Denmark, Taiwan and China are showing how schools can safely open and stay open in this season of Covid-19. 

Using strong edicts and support from central governments, or in the case of Denmark reopening with a plan developed through strong collaboration and respect among teachers, parent councils, local authorities and the Minister of Education.

Countries successfully opening, and keeping schools open, have accepted health recommendations, not cherry-picked the least expensive recommendations. 

Since April, smaller class sizes and no mask-wearing has been Denmark’s successful school-opening strategy.

Denmark believes education is the most important investment for future prosperity. Kenney, on the other hand, sees it simply as an unwelcome expense harming future corporate tax cuts.

Schimke worked as the financial secretary in both the Red Deer Public and Catholic school boards and was a classroom volunteer in a Grade 3 class.


Brenda Schimke

ECA Review

About the author

Brenda Schimke

Schimke is a Graduate with Distinction from the University of Alberta with a BCom degree. She has lived and worked in Alberta, BC and Ontario.