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The teacher is sick. Now what? Here’s what head of N.W.T. Teachers’ Association says

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Week three for many teachers of being back in the classroom just wrapped up in the N.W.T.

Amid the new protocols, the reality when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic means teachers might have to spend time out of the classroom if they get sick.

And in a region where substitute teachers can be far and few, what happens when a teacher can’t come to class for days in a row?

Matthew Miller, president of the N.W.T. Teachers’ Association, says there’s a few things that could happen.

Whereas in the past, if teachers got the sniffles they “toughed it out,” Miller says now that can’t always be the case.

For example, when a teacher begins to feel sick at work with at least one major symptom or two minor symptoms of COVID-19, they have to ensure they have proper personal protective equipment on and head home immediately. Then they must contact public health who will let the teacher know what to do next.

In the case that teachers need to stay home, Miller says a substitute would be called in. 

Some of our teachers have not left the N.W.T. since December of 2019.– Matthew Miller, N.W.T. Teachers’ Association

This option does present some challenges however, as the availability of substitute teachers varies from community to community, and with each year, he said.

“Sometimes there’s lots of subs and in other years it’s really hard to track people down,” Miller said.

“I can see a higher demand for substitutes this year as teachers won’t be toughing it out and are required to self-screen or remain at home until public health has approved them.” 

This year, he says it’s likely substitutes will be booked up in advance. In the past he said there have been regions that hire full time substitute teachers knowing that the demand is usually high.

“If there are people out there looking for work, this is a great opportunity to get into the schools,” Miller said.

Sir John Franklin High School in Yellowknife. Miller, the head of the teachers’ association says substitutes are often in high demand, so if a teacher gets sick, the school may need to use other resources. (Graham Shishkov/CBC)

Support staff may need to step in

Miller said the intent is to keep schools open with students and teachers having face-to-face lessons as much as possible. Though he says there could be a point where schools can no longer operate, it would take a lot of steps before it gets to that.

For instance, if no substitutes are available, then schools would likely use “internal coverage,” where other teachers in the school would cover classes during their assigned prep period. Support staff or specialty teachers could also take on the role of teacher if need be.

Miller says some of the classes could be shifted to a blended or online learning style during the time their teachers are at home. It’s also possible that the grades would be prioritized, where some of the older students could be sent home with assigned work.

I can see a higher demand for substitutes this year as teachers won’t be toughing it out.– Matthew Miller, N.W.T. Teachers’ Association

Then, Miller says there’s also breaks that need to be considered.

He says the association is getting steady calls from teachers looking for answers on sick leave, special leave and whether they can travel over the Christmas and spring breaks.

“There’s a number of our educators that will want to travel to see family and friends. Some of our teachers have not left the N.W.T. since December of 2019,” he said.

“Waiting two years to see family and friends is difficult.”

The association has been working closely with labour relations, superintendents and the Department of Education Culture and Employment, to make sure that teachers are paid for sick leave, he said.

For now, Miller says there’s a mixture of feelings in the schools, though overall, he hears it’s a positive learning environment.

As for students, Miller says the guidelines have been taken seriously and as a result, kids have been understanding and co-operative of the expectations at school. 

For sick students, most schools are asking parents to monitor kids for either one “major symptom” of COVID-19 — fever, shortness of breath, or a dry cough — or two more common “minor symptoms.” Those include aches, sore throat, runny nose, diarrhea, vomiting, “general unease,” or a loss of smell, taste or appetite.

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Ford says supporter will not get special treatment in school accreditation process

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Premier Doug Ford says the government isn’t giving any special treatment to a prominent social conservative whose Christian college is seeking permission to become a university.

The government recently introduced legislation that, among other things, would give the Canada Christian College the ability to grant university degrees in arts and sciences.

The college is run by Charles McVety, a prominent Christian activist and controversial supporter of the premier ever since Ford ran for the Progressive Conservative leadership.

Ford says the college will be evaluated by an independent agency that will decide if it gets the ability to call itself a university before his government’s legislation takes effect.

Former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne denounced the legislation today, saying the province should not “extend the mandate” of McVety.

McVety, who did not immediately respond to request for comment, was an active opponent of Wynne’s move to update Ontario’s sex-education curriculum when she was in office.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 22, 2020.

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Learning about residential schools in elementary grades ‘non-negotiable,’ education minister says

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Despite the recommendations of hand-picked government advisers, Alberta elementary school students will learn about residential schools in a new curriculum, the education minister says.

“We are absolutely committed to facing reconciliation and to ensuring that the truth about residential schools, about that content, is in our K-6 curriculum. That is non-negotiable,” Adriana LaGrange told reporters at the legislature on Wednesday.

However, she wouldn’t say at what grade level she thinks those lessons should start.

Leaked documents obtained by CBC show that advisers recruited to revise drafts of the incoming K-4 social studies curriculum crossed out any references to harm done to Indigenous people by European settlers.

In the documents, an unidentified adviser writes that negative effects of the arrival of Europeans in Canada is “too sad and upsetting” for fourth graders. The documents suggest students begin learning about them in Grade 9 or high school.

The adviser, or advisers, also say lessons should cover residential schools in the broader context of “harsh schooling.”

“The ugliness of Dickensian schooling, boarding schools, 19th-century discipline methods and residential schooling that applied to some Indigenous kids can probably best be saved for later when learners are more mature and less emotionally vulnerable to traumatic material,” the documents said.

The documents also said the problems of residential schools applied to “a minority of children.”

The recommendations are counter to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, which compelled all schools to teach children in all grades about residential schools, treaties and the contributions of Indigenous people.

This summer, the Alberta government hired 17 advisers to review existing drafts of a new curriculum and provide suggestions. The social studies adviser is Chris (C.P.) Champion, a history writer and former staffer to Premier Jason Kenney when he was a Conservative Member of Parliament and cabinet minister. He is currently a visiting fellow at Queen’s University.

LaGrange’s press secretary has previously said Champion was one of several people who authored the leaked social studies documents.

LaGrange would not say which of the recommendations she plans to include in the new curriculum.

“Advice is advice,” she said. “No final decisions have been made.”

Other suggestions a ‘major loss’ for francophones: scholar

The Opposition NDP called for the government to fire its advisers.

NDP Indigenous relations critic Richard Feehan says the UCP government should fire its curriculum consultants that are making recommendations he says are racist. (CBC)

Indigenous relations critic Richard Feehan said the government knew what kind of advice it would get when it selected its consultants.

“You always bring people to you who you think will give advice you think you will take,” Feehan said. “In this case, they seem to have brought people to them who seem to have this racist attitude toward Indigenous people.”

Also missing from the suggested curriculum are any references to the history of francophones in Alberta, said Raphaël Gani, a PhD candidate who is studying francophone perspectives in the province’s social studies curriculum.

“For francophones, it’s a major loss,” Gani said.

The current social studies curriculum was written alongside francophone and Indigenous contributors, he said. None of that collaboration is evident in the draft of recommendations, he said.

“The dream is now over,” he said. “To work as equal partners is not the way this program has been made.”

The Alberta Teachers’ Association issued a statement saying the organization has lost faith in the government’s curriculum redesign process. The United Conservative Party government previously tore up an agreement that made the association a partner in writing curriculum.

The recommendations are “regressive and inappropriate” and highlight the risk of cutting teachers out of the process, the statement said.

LaGrange said working groups of subject-area experts, which include teachers, will have a chance to review curriculum proposals later this fall.

She said she will release the elementary school curriculum to the public in early 2021.

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Manitoba looks to Tennessee model in efforts to tailor post-secondary education to labour market

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Premier Brian Pallister is looking at the example of an American state that pioneered performance-based funding for post-secondary institutions, as Manitoba seeks a new way to finance higher education.

The premier met with the University of Manitoba’s new president, Michael Benarroch, in September. The premier expressed interest in following the lead of Tennessee, says Benarroch, but perhaps not that of other Canadian provinces that have explored performance-based funding, like Alberta and Ontario.

“Interestingly, the premier said in our conversation that he didn’t want to make the mistake that some of the other provinces have made — he didn’t want this to be a hammer,” Benarroch told a U of M senate meeting on Oct. 7.

“And he referred to, as our [economic development] minister has done … the Tennessee model, which is one that shows up in the United States as the ideal of these kinds of models.”

Benarroch later urged his colleagues to explore what Tennessee has done.

“We can help to influence government’s direction as they move forward with this,” Benarroch said in an audio recording of the virtual meeting, which CBC News requested from the university.

Michael Benarroch took over as president and vice-chancellor of the University of Manitoba earlier this year. (Alia Youssef/University of Manitoba)

In the last year, Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government has repeatedly signalled it wants to tailor universities and colleges to more closely meet labour market needs, but hasn’t explained what that might look like.

If Manitoba emulates Tennessee’s policy, it wouldn’t be the only jurisdiction.

A majority of American states have developed post-secondary funding models based on performance — rather than enrolment numbers — since Tennessee started doing so in 1979. The use of the model has varied significantly, however, and been discontinued in some cases. 

Tennessee bases about 83 per cent of its post-secondary funding allocation on a set of weighted outcomes and “quality standards,” and the remaining 17 per cent on fixed costs, according to a state document.

The lion’s share of funding is based on outcomes like graduation rates, the number of degrees awarded, the number of credit hours obtained and the certificates and degrees granted per 100 full-time students. Lower-performing schools receive a smaller grant.

MacGregor Obergfell studied Tennessee’s approach as a former research intern with the New America, a public policy think tank.

“It can work, but you have to be very careful with how you develop it,” he said in a phone interview from Washington, D.C.

A funding model incentivizing graduation rates and certain majors may stop some students from applying, Obergfell said.

“If they’re not set up in a way that really makes sure that the institution is still a place that is accepting of students and is there to help them succeed through enrolment to graduation, they can actually be counterproductive in practice.”

Disadvantaged students prioritized

Tennessee’s financing model has been evolving, in part, to address these criticisms. The funding formula can be revised every five years, and a premium is now placed on advancing students from disadvantaged backgrounds. As well, institutions can weigh some metrics as more valuable, depending on their priorities. 

The financing model is also helped by a suite of other initiatives to encourage enrolment, Obergfell said, including free community or technical college for some residents and a campaign to get post-secondary credentials for 55 per cent of Tennesseans by 2025.

An outcomes-based model “has to be incorporated with other programs designed to increase access” for students, he said.

Scott Forbes, president of the Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations, said these policies yield minimal, if any, benefits, but come at a significant cost.

“The universities, if they’re penalized for having lower participation rates, lower graduation rates, lower retention rates … simply change their entrance standards,” said Forbes, referring to research that found these models tend to exacerbate challenges for low-income and minority applicants.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister told University of Manitoba administration that he likes the Tennessee approach to post-secondary funding. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Forbes said any outcomes-based model would require an influx in new funding, but he isn’t confident the Pallister government will follow suit. Manitoba post-secondary institutions have faced funding freezes, and in one year, a cut

Benarroch said in an interview he recognizes the trepidation over a new financing model, but he believes it can help.

“I think as you become more informed and more aware of how it works, some of that fear dissipates,” he said, adding that any system should account for differences between institutions.

“You begin to realize that in places where this has been implemented and implemented well that, in fact … it can help to improve outcomes over time.”

In an email, the province wouldn’t discuss its meeting with the U of M, but said it would prioritize accountability in any outcomes-based funding model.

It’s also reviewing the approaches in Alberta and Ontario, which haven’t implemented their models yet because of the pandemic.

“The Tennessee model was established in the 1970s to fund institutions based on performance instead of enrolment numbers, and it includes easy-to-understand metrics that capture each school’s uniqueness and an external review committee to ensure the metrics are fair and effective,” the statement said.

“We are working to develop a model and funding metrics that best fit Manitoba’s needs and will involve our seven publicly funded colleges and universities throughout the design, development and implementation process.”

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