Alberta Education Announces Mental Health Support Without Addressing Root Causes – Calgary Herald | Team Cansler

Parents and education advocates have argued that the lack of stricter health measures like mask requirements is causing disruption, stress and anxiety, particularly among schoolchildren

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Alberta Education on Wednesday announced an increase in funding for mental health support for K-12 schools — but didn’t address the reasons many parents say cause stress in students, including learning disabilities, absenteeism and increasing Diseases.

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Education Secretary Adriana LaGrange visited a French-language school in Calgary to announce a “doubling” of existing annual mental health funding, adding an additional $10 million each year to the existing $10 million per year over two years that previously announced in the 2022 budget.

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The extra money will support up to 60 “mental health pilots” in urban and rural areas to improve the mental health of students and upskill staff.

“The relationship between positive mental health and academic success is of significant importance and is a top priority for our administration,” LaGrange said.

“I’ve heard firsthand from parents, teachers and other school staff that learning disabilities and temporary school closures have impacted the mental health and well-being of many, if not all, students in one form or another in recent years.”

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But parents and education advocates have argued for weeks that it’s the lack of stricter health measures like mask requirements that’s causing disruption, stress and anxiety among students.

“This government has put the students in a totally untenable situation,” said Amanda Hu, spokeswoman for Fresh Air Schools.

“Children are afraid to go to school because they see diseases all around them.

“You see classmates who can’t come to school, or they can’t come to school because they’re sick and they want to do the right thing. But then they feel guilty because they’re missing out, can’t help with a group assignment, or are falling behind.

“How can all of this not affect your sanity?”

Medeana Moussa, spokeswoman for Support Our Students added: “Families are incredibly stressed at the moment. And that’s because they’re caught up in this constant cycle of kids who are away, miss school, and fall behind.

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“And that’s what happens when you don’t use mitigation measures.”

LaGrange has been pressured several times as to why the province won’t commit to a mask mandate on Wednesday, even after Prime Minister Danielle Smith clarified several times over the past week that she will not reintroduce the mask mandate in schools.

And when asked if Alberta Education would consider allowing individual school boards to implement their own mask mandates without provincial approval, LaGrange said essentially no.

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“School boards are not allowed to mask students without a chief health officer, and I’m not going to anticipate or speculate as to what the new chief health officer will say.”

Since Smith was elected in last month’s UCP leadership election, he has replaced former CMOH Dr. Deena Hinshaw, who led the province during the pandemic, through Dr. Mark Joffe, vice president of Alberta Health Services.

LaGrange said families have told the government that masking has also increased their anxiety.

“I’ve heard from many parents and students that it was masking that contributed to mental health issues and anxiety.

“Some even had trouble breathing properly and studying properly.”

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Education Minister Adriana LaGrange speaks at a press conference at the École du Nouveau-Monde School in Calgary.  The minister announced new funding for student mental health support.  Wednesday 16 November 2022.
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange speaks at a press conference at the École du Nouveau-Monde School in Calgary. The minister announced new funding for student mental health support. Wednesday 16 November 2022. Dean Pilling/Postmedia

School boards in major Alberta cities have seen a spike in illness and absenteeism in recent weeks, with the Calgary Board of Education now reporting 12 percent absenteeism this week and the Edmonton Public School Board nearly 14 percent.

Also, the Calgary Catholic School District says about 35 percent of its schools are now seeing absenteeism greater than 10 percent, meaning they’re being hit by outbreaks. And two classrooms had to switch to online learning at home.

Hu added that even if the province funds mental health support, anxiety and learning loss will continue to rise along with illness and learning disabilities.

“I have no idea how learning outcomes can be achieved the way things are going.”

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LaGrange added that Wednesday’s funding announcement will be in addition to the $45 million allocated last year to help address the pandemic learning loss among Grades 1-3 students across Alberta.

But school boards have said they’re still short on cash, with the CBE confirming at a board meeting just two weeks ago that this year’s operating budget of $1.15 billion is essentially the same as last year, while they welcomed a record 5,886 additional students this year.

Public school officials have also said investments to support special-needs students are lagging behind as Alberta Education leaves a funding gap of about $50 million to handle growing complexities in increasingly crowded classrooms.

eferguson@postmedia.com

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