Educators and parents are weighing the announcement last week that plans are for classes to resume in September.
On Tuesday, July 21 Premier Jason Kenney was joined by Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and chief medical officer of health Deena Hinshaw to announce students would be returning to class this fall.
Schools will be welcoming students under the province’s Scenario 1, which is near normal operations with health measures in place to protect students and staff.
“We are determined to do everything we can to safely return our students, teachers, and staff to school. I appreciate the input and support of school authorities across the province, as well as our education partners, in developing and refining our school re-entry plan,” said Minister LeGrange. “We are providing clear and detailed guidelines and a re-entry tool kit so everyone can do their part and prepare for a safe return to school.”
Principal of Drumheller Valley Secondary School (DVSS), Curtis LaPierre, says there are many details still to be worked out on the re-entry plan. He does note it is advantageous for students to be at school.
“The best place for learning is kids in the classroom,” said LaPierre. “There is a social element to education that enhances things. The environment is not dynamic enough online to get a depth of understanding, and there are some associated efficiencies in learning you can get in the classroom. From that perspective having kids back in school is the best-case scenario.”
Under scenario 1, classes would resume with all students returning to school. There would be measures in place which include frequent cleaning of surfaces, placing hand sanitizers at school entrances and classrooms, grouping students in cohorts, and planning the school day to allow for physical distancing, which could include staggering start times for classes, recesses, and lunches. Additional public health measures may be established prior to September on the advice of the chief medical officer of health in consultation with the education system.
LaPierre noted the risk to students of serious complications from COVID so far is low.
“Other than some isolated instance where COVID has impacted youth in a negative way, oftentimes with the loss of a parent and grandparent, but on a physical level, for the most part, they seem to manage that infection well. Are they a high-risk audience? No. However they go out and about in the community and then visit a grandparent, and if they are asymptomatic, who knows if they are carrying and that viral infection is transferred to someone else.”
He also notes the risk of staff that are immune-compromised.
On the day of the announcement, July 21, there were 1,244 active cases of COVID-19. On Monday, July 27 there are 1,430. The growth in numbers has some parents concerned.
“In one breath Premier Kenney is chastising Albertans for not socially distancing and wearing masks, and then turns and says classes can return to full classes and no mandatory masks,” said Helen Treller who has children at St. Anthony’s “I’m concerned about bussing, kids in school, teachers, fellow students... what will the protocol be if a student in class has a sniffle- is testing mandatory of the child, or do all children in their cohort stay home (and their associated families) until the 14 days pass?” We need more answers and I think there should be some means for the divisions to take the opinions of the parents into their plans.”
She notes that physical distancing will be difficult and not reflected in the “test runs” noted in summer schools where class sizes were limited.
“My kids want to go back, they want their peers, and structure, but it has to be done safely. They need the expertise of trained educators. Class sizes need to be managed. Masks need to be mandatory. Shouldn’t we be basing it on the WHO standard of 2 metres?”
She is also concerned about staffing.
“The schools have lost a lot of teaching assistants already. And what happens if a teacher is self-isolating, are there enough substitutes able to cover?” she asks.
“There are more questions than answers at this time. I’m hoping common sense will prevail and proper provisions are put into place; the ability to socially distance and masks at a minimum. With rising cases, it’s the least we can do for our kids and our community.”
MLA for Drumheller-Stettler Nate Horner says there are still lots of details to work out.
“The Premier has made it clear that everything is in play. We are going to have to continue to monitor. We have seen a spike in cases, so things may have to happen down the road but we are certainly committed to trying that as close to normal approach with some additional health measures,” he said.
At the time of the announcement, there was no funding made available for PPE and implementation. Horner says those discussions are still going on.
“They wanted to get this announcement out of the way as early as possible to give the schools time to prepare and so the minster can continue to have those conversations,” he said. “It is my belief if it is found there is a shortfall, we’ll find a way to work through that.”