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Under the Northern Lights - January 12, 2022

Annual Transportation Report

Matt Richter, Director of Transportation, reviewed the Transportation Accountability Report with the Board. 

Transportation funding has remained the same for the last two years due to COVID so a grant application was not required this year. The Transportation Department did complete a mock application to assess what funding would look like with the current students who are accessing services. A total of 3,851 students are currently riding the bus, requiring 91 bus routes and 23 bus contractors. Last year, the division had 96 routes and 25 contractors. Of those students, 2,638 are considered rural and 1,213 urban (City of Cold Lake) and are funded. The total number of unfunded students riding the bus is 433. 

The division's Driving School, established to help reduce training costs for the division and bus contractors, provided full MELT Class 2/S course training to eight students last year and an additional 11 students completed the S Course (School Bus Safety Course). The school generated over $20,000 in fees to outside entities.

Bus driver recruitment and retention continues to be an issue, with some bus contractors ceasing to operate due to a massive increase in insurance premiums. Premiums increased from $4,500 per bus to $6,500 per bus. As a result of the shortage of drivers and contractors, routes had to be consolidated, increasing capacity on buses and extending some ride times.

Richter also highlighted the ongoing problem that bus drivers are experiencing with other drivers who fly by buses that are stopped to load and unload children at bus stops. Drivers are continuing to ignore the flashing red lights and extended stop arms on buses, passing at high speeds, and sometimes even on the right side of the bus where students are getting off and on. Bus drivers are reporting approximately three flybys per week.

The Board passed a motion to send a letter to the Ministers of Transportation and Infrastructure, as well as to the Treasury Board outlining its concerns related to transportation. This includes the impact COVID-19 and MELT (Mandatory Entry Level Training) have had on driver recruitment, the need for the province to move forward with the work done by the Transportation Task Force, the impact skyrocketing insurance premiums are having on contractors and the student transportation system, and the need to take steps to address flybys, including installing stop arm cameras on all school buses.


Good News 

  • Board Chair Karen Packard highlighted the Board's recent virtual meeting with Cold Lake School Council parents. The Board had an opportunity to share information about different things that are happening in the division and to hear about some of the initiatives school councils have been doing at their schools.

  • Nicole Garner, Communications and Public Relations Manager, presented the Board with Good News items from schools throughout the division. The presentation is available on our website: Good News - January 12, 2022


COVID Update

Bill Driedger, Associate Superintendent, provided the Board with an update on how COVID restrictions have changed since its last meeting. Over the winter break, Alberta Education announced that all students would have an extended break until January 10th and that medical grade masks and rapid test kits would be provided for all students and staff. 

Driedger noted that some schools had already received their shipments of supplies. Google Forms were shared with parents so that they could indicate if they wanted to receive any of the supplies. This shipment includes 20 masks for each person which are expected to last 10 days. 

New guidance documents with revised COVID protocols were shared on the Saturday prior to students returning to school. This included further direction about shifting to at-home learning. School divisions have the authority to shift a class or a grade online. If the division wants to shift an entire school, that would require approval from Alberta Education with data to support that request. 

NLPS will be monitoring student and staff absences as that is the critical factor in being able to continue to provide in-person programming to students. Driedger noted that things have changed since last year, as shifts to at-home learning were usually due to classes of teachers and students needing to quarantine and teachers were often able to continue teaching from home if they were not ill. This year, however, a shift to at-home learning may be due to a staff member being ill and unable to work, so that will make it more challenging to continue to provide programming to students. 

Contact tracing has changed and NLPS will no longer be informed if there is a case connected to one of its schools. The division will continue to share self-disclosed cases with parents, but Driedger noted these will be cases confirmed by rapid test kits and not Alberta Health Services as PCR testing is being restricted to high risk individuals at this time. 

The division is also moving towards having MERV-13 filters used in all of its schools HVAC systems.


Delegation - Miranda Remillard

Miranda Remillard from Lakeland United and Rising shared that group's concerns regarding COVID-19 restrictions, masking and vaccinations. Remillard said the group of parents, students, teachers and community members is particularly concerned about the impact COVID restrictions have had on children's mental health. She cited data showing increases in hospital visits for severe mental health crises, including suicide.

Remillard questioned why restrictions were in place in schools at all, stating that children are at lower risk of severe outcomes as a risk of contracting COVID, and are not significant spreaders of the virus. Lakeland United and Rising would like to see all COVID restrictions removed, particularly masking. They encouraged the Board to push back against the mandates being imposed by the government. They also urged the Board not to approve mandatory vaccinations for staff or students.

Board Chair Karen Packard thanked Remillard for her presentation and said the Board would review the information presented.


K-6 Curriculum Announcement

Board Chair Karen Packard reported that Alberta Education had made changes to the implementation of the draft K-6 curriculum. The province is now moving forward with English Language Arts and Literature, Mathematics, and Physical Education and Wellness in September 2022. It has also created a new design blueprint for social studies.

Public engagement is underway with a survey open until the end of January and a virtual session scheduled for Tuesday, February 8 from 7-8:15 p.m. Stakeholders can complete the survey or register for the session on the Alberta Education website.

Packard noted that revisions were being made in many areas and the pace of implementation had been slowed due to the feedback provided to Alberta Education from parents, teachers, school boards and the public. She encouraged everyone to review the revised curriculum and continue to provide input. 


Delegation - Julie Kissel and Craig Werstiuk

Julie Kissel and Craig Werstiuk provided the board with information on how to conduct a risk assessment using a risk matrix. They used a matrix they had created to assess the risk of a child dying after contracting COVID-19 at school and the risk of a child contracting myocarditis after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. 

They recommended the Board develop their own tool and perform a risk assessment surrounding vaccinations for students. They were confident that the outcome would be similar to the risk assessment they competed, which showed there is a greater risk of harm to students if they receive the vaccine.

Board Chair Karen Packard thanked them for their presentation and said the Board would review the information that was provided.