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Edmonton’s Catholic school board announced an additional round of layoffs on Thursday, the latest job cuts in Alberta schools that have been closed for classes because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Edmonton Catholic School Division said 67 custodians would be laid off, in addition to 708 job cuts that were previously announced. The earlier layoffs affected educational assistants, replacement staff and other non-essential workers.

Throughout Alberta, more than 20,000 educational assistants and support staff have been laid off after the provincial government made $128-million in education cuts at the start of the pandemic. The education minister has defended the cuts, saying the resources were not needed in the switch to virtual schooling.

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There is no set date on when Alberta schools will reopen.

Edmonton Catholic Schools said in a news release on Thursday that all of the layoffs were a result of a $5.7-million cut to the board’s funding.

"It is disappointing that these additional layoffs are required but the reality is that we do not know how long students will be learning remotely,” superintendent Robert Martin said in the release.

School boards across Alberta are in similar situations.

The Edmonton Public School Board temporarily laid off 1,878 workers, including 1,094 education assistants, after its funding was cut by $17.5-million.

The Calgary Catholic School District lost $10-million in funding, forcing it to temporarily lay off 950 staff, primarily educational assistants, while the Calgary Board of Education’s funding was cut by $21-million, resulting in 1,900 temporary layoffs.

Red Deer Public Schools faced a $1.45-million budget reduction and laid off 258 educational assistants.

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Critics have said the funding cuts are hurting the schools’ ability to educate students during an already challenging period.

“All of our staff are vital right now,” said Bryan Szumlas, chief superintendent of the Calgary Catholic School District. He added that the funding cuts meant the board needed to “make tough choices.”

Trisha Estabrooks, chair of the Edmonton Public School Board, said students, especially those with complex learning needs, need support staff more than ever.

“We had a plan for all these staff members,” Ms. Estabrooks said. “We had meaningful work laid out for them."

The Opposition NDP’s education critic, Sarah Hoffman, said she feared many of the temporary layoffs may become permanent.

“Most districts are not going to be able to hire back all of the staff because of the significant budget cuts that were rammed through at the beginning of this pandemic,” Ms. Hoffman said. She called upon the government to reverse the layoffs of more than 20,000 educational assistants and support staff.

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Christina Ammeter, an educational assistant in Elk Island Public Schools, who appeared at an event with Ms. Hoffman, said the needs of students do not go away just because they are not in a classroom.

“These cuts have serious and lasting impacts on a child’s social, emotional, and academic development," she said.

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange was not available for an interview. In a statement, press secretary Colin Aitchison said the money saved from the education cuts would be put toward the province’s response to COVID-19.

Alberta has contributed an additional $500-million of health care supports to battle the coronavirus, Mr. Aitchison said.

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