I would like to begin this column with a shout out to our teachers, administrators, custodians and support staff, the frontline workers of the education world. When it comes to organizing and scheduling for specific cohorts of students, facilitating instruction and supporting all learners while attending to heightened measures to keep our schools clean, your dedication, vigilance and genuine care are off the charts. These extra efforts are definitely not going unnoticed, especially in light of the impact in our current pandemic reality. In spite of many cohorts having to go into quarantine because they are identified as close contacts, quality learning is continuing. Further, our parents are making huge sacrifices to work within operational safety guidelines that have been established and we are grateful for this tremendous support. While there are a myriad of wonderful things happening in the realm of student learning, this does not occur without the unwavering dedication of the adults in schools who are becoming fatigued. 

Few would disagree that in-school, face-to-face learning is best for the vast majority of learners. While many factors in education are not within our local control, safeguarding our children and youth in the context of the pandemic IS within our collective control. The incredible work that is happening in our schools to ensure students are present and learning can be quickly undone when some individuals and groups in our community choose to not follow the health protocols. There will come a time when social gatherings are safe and wearing a mask is not necessary – but this is not the time. As a society, we must remember the concept of basic and common respect for one another.

In our Catholic Schools, we look to everything through the eyes of our faith. Part of this very important work is to teach our children about the Catholic Social Teachings. Of the many social teachings, I would like to highlight three of the principles as they relate to our current pandemic circumstance:

  1. The Principle of Respect for Human Dignity: We are all tired and frustrated with the seeming endlessness of this pandemic and want everything to be back to normal. Although the fatigue is real, we can’t arbitrarily decide that we are done with safety protocols. We are all born in God’s image and likeness and therefore, by virtue of the fact that we are all human beings, everyone is worthy of decency and common respect. 
  2. The Principle of Preferential Option for the Poor and Vulnerable: While every person’s needs are important, we must first consider how the lives of the most vulnerable people are impacted by every decision we make. 
  3. The Principle of the Common Good: A community is genuinely healthy when every person within it is doing well. The common good is reached when we work together to improve the wellbeing of people in our society and the wider world.

If we strive to base our decisions on these three principles, we ensure that everyone benefits, not just the individual.  Afterall, we are all called to be our brother’s keeper. 

There is absolutely no question of the incredible pressures on Lethbridge and area schools in light of the growing concern with the number of new and active COVID-19 cases in the regional southwest. In the two-week period from March 9th to March 23rd, the number of daily active cases in our city alone increased by 81%, almost doubling to well over 500. Where our schools’ first priority is the safety and wellbeing of our students and staff, this data is staggering and, from a school perspective, very worrisome. 

We want our students to be able to come to school. We want our staff and their families to remain healthy. We are doing everything we can to ensure this is the reality but we can’t accomplish this alone. We need the support of our community. We need people to not gather, to wear masks and to wash hands and sanitize. The students in our schools are all our children. As a community we have to do better to keep them safe, working together for the common good.