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At the April 19, 2022 board meeting, I tabled a motion to advocate for provincial and federal support of displaced Ukrainian and all refugee students. Through compassionate and collaborative debate with colleagues, we were able to further strengthen this motion. I am proud of our work together and sincerely hope that the provincial and federal governments hear our call.

Wording of the approved motion:

That the Edmonton Public School Board advocate to the Province of Alberta for a per student special allocation granted immediately upon registration (retroactive to October 1, 2021) to support globally displaced children and refugee students being welcomed into our schools and that the Board advocate to the Government of Canada, requesting federal government funding and support for globally displaced children and refugee students in Edmonton Public Schools. 

Furthermore, that the requested additional funding should also include supports for mental health. 

Summary of my opening remarks to introduce this motion:

The conflict, war, and human suffering out of Ukraine, Afghanistan and many places in the world is difficult to hear about and has tragic, real-life consequences. Staff and community partners work hard to ensure that the school principal and teachers get a better understanding of each child’s and each family’s story so that they can best support the child in their learning. In 2016, Edmonton Public Schools welcomed 520 Syrian refugees to our schools. We saw in the news last week, how the school community around Lynnwood gathered donations for Afghan refugees and how over the past several weeks how schools across Edmonton Public have stood in solidarity to support students with Ukrainian heritage through beautiful sunflower displays and other projects. 

It is clear that Edmonton Public Schools does our very best to welcome all new students, including refugees and globally displaced students. 

It is also clear that international conflict continues to arise and that the need for Edmonton Public Schools, and frankly all school divisions, to continue to welcome refugees and globally displaced students will remain a reality for the foreseeable future. This need is heightened with the war in Ukraine, which began on February 24, 2022.

In addition, we know that the weighted moving average funding formula for public schools in Alberta does not provide timely support for new students registering in our schools. That’s why I am bringing forward this motion today. Every student deserves our very best, and timely funding is an important tool to help Edmonton Public Schools provide that support.

Since putting forward my notice of motion at the April 5 board meeting, the Minister of Education has been in touch with all school divisions to advise on how school boards can welcome Ukrainian families and their children into our schools. This is great! However, it leaves out refugee students from other areas of the world. These students need support as well. 

In addition, the government’s own Child and Youth Wellbeing Panel recommended that schools play an important role in the mental health and well-being of all students. However, recent communications from the province have advised that Ukrainian students and families should be supported with mental health supports through existing school authority budgets. Edmonton Public Schools will do that. However, I think it’s important to recognize that current mental health supports for all students is not sufficient. These new Ukrainian and refugee students have been through a lot. The last thing they need is to be short-changed by an already strained system of mental health supports in our schools. Edmonton Public Schools needs timely funding for mental health supports and increased ability to offer wrap around supports for globally displaced and refugee students through community partnerships.

That being said, I am heartened to see advice since last week from Alberta Education providing guidance on how to code Ukrainian students so that they can quickly become registered in a school division. In speaking with newcomer serving organizations in preparation for this motion, I heard that there is a need for increased ease of registration for refugee students. I encourage Alberta Education to extend the expediency with which they are advising school divisions to register Ukrainian students to all refugee students arriving at our schools.

Final thoughts

We are so privileged to live in Edmonton, Alberta, where the very real and ugly violence that would drive us to leave our homes isn’t part of our everyday reality. I am proud of Edmonton Public Schools. We do our very best to support every student that walks through our doors. We will continue to do that. I particularly want to thank Trustee Hole for bringing up the book Homes, which is a touching story of a student, Abu Bakr, who attended Highlands School in Edmonton after arriving from Syria as a refugee. This motion’s advocacy is about asking the federal and provincial governments to recognize our collective place of privilege and the imperative to provide certainty around timely and adequate support for children and their families seeking refuge from violence across the globe.

My thanks also to Thomas Lukaszuk for his work to support humanitarian efforts in Ukraine and for his support of this motion. You can read his letter via Twitter and Facebook.