By Nikki Jamieson
Westwind Weekly News
While the Alberta Teachers’Association welcomed the recent announcement regarding rapid testing in schools, they say it’s not enough.
On April 10, the Government of Alberta announced the in-school rapid screening test program will be expand-ed to up to 300 schools in Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge and Grande Prairie.
Testing will begin over the coming weeks, as rapid testing teams are set up — and 440,000 rapid test kits will be distributed to schools, with testing being offered to up to 220,000 students and staff across Alberta. Teams may also appear at schools outside of these four cities if Alberta Health identifies a need at a specific school.
“I am pleased to significantly expand on our successful rapid testing pilot in schools to more students and staff in more communities. Rapid test screen-ing is one more tool to limit the spread of the virus in schools and ensure students can keep learning safely from the classroom,” said Adriana LaGrange, minister of Alberta Education.
“We are stepping-up our fight against COVID-19 by expanding the rapid testing program in Alberta schools to ensure students, teachers and staff remain safe. Rapid testing in schools offers another layer of protection to our schools,” said Premier Jason Kenney.
In a statement in response to the announcement, ATA President Jason Schilling said while the expansion is welcome, it is not enough and the decision is reactive and late.
“The expansion of the rapid testing program in schools is welcome, but it is not enough. This decision is reactive and late — when schools need proactive solutions in this race against COVID spread,” said Schilling. “The government has made keeping schools open a priority, so they need to make keeping the safety of people working and learning in those buildings a priority.”
Schilling said teachers and parents are concerned about the rapid spread of COVID-19 variants throughout their communities and schools. He also noted last November, when there was about 1,700 cases in schools, secondary schools were moved online, and there is currently 2,400 cases in schools with about one-in-five schools having alerts or outbreaks.
“The government should be looking hard at scenario two in their re-opening strategy — which calls for a blend of at-home and in-school learning with reduced class sizes,” said Schilling.
“The most mindboggling part of (the) announcement is the decision to exclude school workers from expansions to the vaccination program. This is the single biggest thing that would make teachers feel safer. Contrary to the premier’s statements, this is offside with national recommendations on immunization and with what is happening in most other provinces.”