With the clock ticking down to a “near normal” mid-pandemic school reopening next month for three quarters of a million Alberta students, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange plans to provide an update this morning “on public health measures being taken for a safe return to school.”
So, is the Kenney Government — whose back-to-school plan has encountered fear and resistance among large numbers of parents and teachers — about to change course, or just offer more reassuring platitudes?
The announcement sent to media yesterday isn’t terribly informative. It just says Ms. LaGrange and Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw will be on hand this morning at 9 a.m. to chitchat with reporters who dial in to their virtual news conference. There’s no hint of what they’ll have to say.
Still, this suggests at the least that the government feels the need to respond to expressions of concern about reopening schools with no special measures taken against COVID-19.
One imagines United Conservative Party MLAs in every corner of the province have been getting a pretty clear message from lots of constituents that Ms. LaGrange’s plan deserves an F.
And that’s really not the kind of reaction a government should just blow off with a few reassuring words. This must even be true for UCP MLAs who are privately worrying about the obvious inadequacies of the plan themselves.
Not that either the premier or the education minister would be likely to pay much attention anything said by backbench MLAs, let alone public school teachers, but they might sit up a little more attentively when it’s rural voters from hard-core UCP ridings who are making the calls.
A social media group inspired by the recent excitement in the streets of Portland, Ore. — a message of its own right there — calling itself the Wall of Alberta Moms and Dads has gathered more than 4,000 followers on Twitter since July 28 “to co-ordinate action against the Kenney Government’s unsafe plan for school reopening.”
They’re demanding the government reduce class sizes and increase spending on safety measures while the COVID-19 pandemic persists, and they can expect to be dismissed as an NDP front by the UCP’s troll army. Whether a large number of social media followers translates into effective action remains to be seen.
“We want the government to know that there are hundreds of thousands of parents willing to write letters, write emails, phone MLAs, phone ministers and take to the streets to protect our kids,” organizer David Gray told Global News on Sunday.
With a presence on Twitter and Facebook, the group’s organizers promise a storm of letters, emails, phone calls and social media posts. Later there will be a March of Moms and Dads, they vow.
The back-to-school plan may sound sketchy to plenty of parents, but up to now the government has continued to insist it has the approval of Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw for the way it intends to proceed, so everything is OK.
Dr. Hinshaw and Ms. LaGrange last appeared together on Wednesday when they held a short “town hall” on Facebook at which they answered a few questions and insisted they both felt confident about sending kids back to school in “near normal” conditions.
Dr. Hinshaw, however, has added the caveat that “while I believe this is the right thing to do for our kids, in general, each individual family needs to consider their own situation and make the right decision for them.”
Dr. Hinshaw, who has repeatedly recommended the use of face masks in indoor public spaces, has so far not said she would require students returning to school to wear them.
Maybe that will change today. Or maybe not.
In other news, the Alberta Government has now ended its program of giving away 40 million non-medical masks at the drive-through windows of franchise fast-food restaurants.
Why the government bought 40 million masks not suitable for use in medical facilities, or why they weren’t returned to their manufacturer in China if they were unsuitable for the purpose for which they were purchased, remains a mystery.