Alberta government targets return to schools with some health measures in place
CALGARY -- Alberta's Education Minister Adriana LaGrange says the government is looking at seeing students back in class in September, but health guidelines will be in place to prevent COVID-19 infection.
"Our goal is to get back to learning as quickly as possible," LaGrange said, adding students learn best inside classrooms with their teachers and peers.
Officials say while planning would be done to prepare for all three scenarios previously mentioned by the government, the "preferred and likely scenario" will see students in daily in-school classes beginning in September.
"We are providing clear direction and the certainty parents and the school system need to plan ahead and get ready for what the new school year may look like. We are hoping, and it is likely, students can return to daily classes at school while taking health precautions, but we have to prepare for all possibilities," LaGrange wrote in a release.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said there would be a number of health measures that would be in place to protect students and staff, including improved hygiene and sanitation procedures.
"Students may be grouped in cohorts, and rooms could be reorganized to create more space."
Masks would not be required to be worn by students, but she says they would be considered when students start to feel ill while they are at school.
Hinshaw also said health authorities would also be closely following what other jurisdictions around the world are doing to keep students safe in schools.
"We'll be incorporating both that emerging evidence around reducing transmission in schools, as well as looking at our own experience with the cases that we have in the province," she said. "Those are the things that would be informing whether or not we would need to take a different approach."
In-person classes at all schools in Alberta were closed in mid-March as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Premier Jason Kenney, during his Tuesday announcement, said all K-12 schools would be reopened for diploma exams and summer school classes later this week. However, Kenney did not share any details about what those classes or coursework would look like when the COVID-19 health precautions are taken into account.
Hinshaw did say some guidance has been developed for summer schools, including smaller class sizes and physical distancing.
"We’ll be able to learn from summer school experiences as we're learning from other jurisdictions who have opened their schools earlier and, as the premier mentioned, all of that then goes into decision making for the fall."
COVID-19 prevention measures still in effect
She also added many of the health guidelines developed throughout the past several months are also still in place.
"Wear a non-medical mask or face covering in public if you will be in crowded places. Also continue to take extra care around people who are more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19, such as older people, or those with pre-existing health conditions. Follow rules when you gather together and comply with all other public health measures," she said.
"I know you've heard this many times, but this remains the best advice I can give. I am incredibly grateful for the compassion that you have shown each other throughout this crisis."
The government is expected to release its final decision on which of the three scenarios it will be putting into place by Aug. 1.
Wednesday evening, the Calgary Board of Education issued a statement, saying that they have received over 70,000 responses to their student, staff and parent surveys, which indicated that "many families are looking forward to returning to a "near-normal" school experience as soon as it is safe to do so."
"We are feeling more optimistic about this possibility," it said, continuing, "and feel more hopeful that we can welcome them back to their schools Sept. 1."
The CBE has created an internal task force, "with representatives from school and service units, which will consider all aspects of returning into the classroom and workplace, including instructional design and delivery, how staff will return to work, capacity of classrooms and meeting rooms, yellow school bus logistics, and other priority actions required to safely reintegrate into the workplace and classroom.
The statement added that it "will provide more information in the coming weeks and over the summer to ensure all of our students are ready to return to learning, as we begin the new school year on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020."