By Cole Parkinson
The Horizon school board of trustees tackled two different policies before students returned to schools earlier this week.
At their regular meeting held on Aug. 18, the board reviewed Policy GB — Occupational Health and Safety and Policy GCE — Substitute Teachers.
Policy GB had first reading carried at the board’s regular June meeting and was brought back for second and final readings.
“There are two components that are different from the previous version,” explained Wilco Tymensen, superintendent of schools. “One is OH and S. Legislation has required a number of different changes around informing staff and having staff involved with safety within businesses. Phil (Johansen, associate superintendent of finance and operations), over the last year or so, has looked at requirements around worksite safety committees at every location and every site. The policy outlines those expectations around quarterly meetings, safety inspections at the facility and having staff involved in those committees.”
Tymensen furthered explained to the board additional changes that needed to be made within the policy.
“The second component in the policy is in regard to under OH and S legislation, employees have the right to refuse dangerous work. If there is an imminent danger and it is not adequately addressed, they have a right not to work. An example would be, you have a maintenance worker coming on a location and there is no personal protection equipment,” said Tymensen. “Our policy also includes that our staff have to have training through public works as there are videos that talk about when there are stairwells, making sure there are proper handrails and those sorts of things. More or less, that is what the policy is addressing.”
Second and third readings of the policy were carried unanimously.
Policy GCE was also brought forward for the board’s review.
“This is kind of an urgent policy. About two years ago, we started some discussion with the board around sub shortage,” stated Tymensen. “At that point, there was a significant sub shortage in the province in the sense we were seeing a shortcoming in regard to being able to acquire subs. That issue has been more of a prevalent issue in northern Alberta and we have been fortunate enough with the University of Lethbridge and the educational faculty there that we typically have had enough subs. But in northern Alberta, around the Grand Prairie area, the Northlands School Division and the other half of the province, and the Fort McMurray area as well, they have run into times where they haven’t been able to find a sub. The concern of course becomes, if that becomes a significant period of time, what do you do? Do you shut your school down? Do you not have kids in school? What they have put in place is instructional replacement personnel. It is a last resort so if you can’t find a teacher, you have the ability to bring in an adult to provide supervision and some level of instruction so you don’t have to shut school down.”
With COVID-19 still an issue facing school divisions across the country, administration stated the policy would be essential to keep schools running with as little setbacks as possible.
“With COVID and the requirements for self-isolation, and any unknown situa tion which could arise in the coming months around how many and how often staff are absent, it may be a minor sore throat, but they could be away for an extended period of time. That may have an impact on sub availability,” added Tymensen. “What this policy will allow us to do is to bring in another adult in those emergency situations.”
While the policy does have a necessity of quickness, administration also advised they were only looking for first reading as they wanted to have further discussions around the policy with other groups.
“What this will allow us to do is have a conversation with our local ATA (Alberta Teachers Association) regarding this process. Based on that, I may bring this forward for second and final reading in September. The policy, more or less, was drafted many years ago but it really hasn’t been revisited since then.”
While the policy would permit non-teachers into classrooms in emergency situations, administration also detailed how the process would work on a day-to-day basis when looking for substitute teachers.
“The expectation is you would not be able to bring those individuals in for more than one day. Every day you would have to look to find a teacher. If I can’t find a teacher today, I can bring this person in. If a person is sick for three days, I would look for someone different tomorrow. If I can’t find a certified teacher, I would rely on this individual. That is the process for the emergency replacement personnel,” explained Tymensen.
First reading of the policy was carried unanimously.