Parents and caregivers from across Alberta gathered outside Education Minister Adriana LaGrange's constituency office to ask that an alternative school re-entry plan be put in place for students with complex learning needs.
"We are asking for something similar to what B.C. has put in place," said Chantal Sherwood, a mom from the Edmonton area, who along with other parents in matching T-shirts, travelled from Edmonton to Red Deer on Tuesday afternoon.
The grassroots support and advocacy group call themselves Hold My Hand Alberta, and were joined by members representing other interest groups and non-profits.
They were able to hand-deliver a five point re-entry plan to the minister's office that they say would give students with high needs a higher chance of success.
It includes a request to have students who have an individualized education plan begin the school year ahead of the larger population.
"We would want early school entry for all Alberta children on an IPP, IEP, ISP [individual education plans] to help ease adjustments with COVID-19 safety measures," she said.
"That should include any child of essential workers and should also include any child with extenuating circumstances or who needs extra time to adjust to new circumstances, so children who are starting the school year in foster care, that kind of thing, we want to make sure they feel supported too."
According to the parents, this could help teachers by giving them a few extra days to get to know and assess the needs of students who require a little extra support, before integrating the rest of the class.
Some students with ADHD or conditions within autism spectrum disorder, students with anxiety disorders, or those experiencing trauma can exhibit impulse control issues, particularly when they are placed in new settings with new expectations.
Parents say new rules around social distancing, masks, hygiene and sharing will be a tough adjustment for all students, but are likely to heighten reactions for vulnerable students.
The re-entry plan also asks that families with children assigned a specific education plan have a copy before kids begin the school year so that goals and expectations are clearly laid out.
Those at the rally say some supports their children counted on, like educational assistants in the classroom, either won't be offered this year or will be scaled back due to the provincial budget.
Sherwood says having enough educational assistants working with students in class will be crucial to the success and safety of not only complex learners, but the entire student population during this pandemic.
"There's no ifs, ands, or buts about it. They want to do all these cohort groups, you're not going to do that without an [educational assistant]," Sherwood said.
LaGrange was invited to join the gathering .
She did not attend, but some of the Hold My Hand Alberta members were invited into her office to deliver their alternate re-entry requests to a staff member.
They hope to hear something on the proposal soon and say time is ticking away quickly.
School resumes in less than two weeks and for many parents with high-needs learners, whether they register their child for at home learning or a brick-and-mortar school will depend largely on whether the province's re-entry plan includes the provisions for complex learners they are asking for .