Calgary's post-secondary schools support return to classes, students want to stay safe
The Alberta government says post-secondary students can return to in-person classes in the fall, but some students are leery about that timeline. (File)
CALGARY -- Calgary students are warm to the idea of returning to in-person classes in the fall but some are also wary about the logistics needed to make that happen, particularly where vaccines are concerned.
In a statement issued Thursday, Minister of Advanced Education Demetrios Nicolaides announced Alberta post-secondary students would have the opportunity to return to in-person learning in September 2021.
He said schools, students and families could prepare for on-campus classes because of the positive strides made in the Alberta government's COVID-19 vaccination program.
"Alberta’s COVID-19 immunization program continues to move forward. As per recent announcements by the Minister of Health, we anticipate that we will offer every adult Albertan their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of June," he said.
However, as the president of the University of Calgary's Students' Union admits online learning presented "difficult challenges", he is less optimistic about the timeline regarding a return to in-person learning.
"The mixed messaging from the province blaming the federal government for not providing enough vaccines to Alberta while simultaneously saying that all adults will be vaccinated by the end of June and planning for a return to class for September is concerning," said president Frank Finley in a statement.
"This does not fill the SU with confidence."
Staff at the U of C also share some of the same concerns over the Alberta government's vaccination schedule.
"The scope and scale of in-person classes this fall will depend on vaccination timelines and public health regulations around physical distancing and other considerations," a statement emailed to CTV News from the school wrote.
"We look forward to working with Alberta Health to better understand those timelines and regulations, and are looking to make an announcement about fall plans shortly."
U of C president Ed McCauley also wrote a letter to the campus community Friday, announcing that the school is working on "a number of scenarios" for the fall.
He says those strategies still depend on the number of vaccines that are actually administered in Alberta.
"Vaccine rollout will in turn drive public health regulations around physical distancing and other considerations such as the required level of enhanced cleaning. These regulations have a significant effect on the maximum capacity of our teaching and learning spaces," he said.
OTHER SCHOOLS 'ENCOURAGED'
Meanwhile, staff at Mount Royal University in Calgary is glad to hear the good news about the fall.
"Mount Royal University is encouraged by (the) statement from the Advanced Education Minister Nicolaides," said a statement from MRU president Tim Rahilly. "Mount Royal University will offer as many courses and services as possible in person and within public health guidelines starting in Fall 2021."
However, MRU added that most of its other employees will remain in remote work arrangements until at least June 2021.
The Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) also said the announcement was "welcome news" for the school.
It says it has also been working on a number of plans for student learning for a number of months.
"We have been offering a form of online and some in-person programming since the early days of the pandemic, and we are looking forward to expanding our footprint which includes looking closely at a hybrid model of course delivery," said SAIT spokesperson Chris Gerritsen.
He adds the school's top priority has always been the health and safety of students and employees.
"We will continue to observe all precautions recommended by the government of Alberta and the Chief Medical Officer of Health as we make the successful return to campus."
DETAILED PLAN NEEDED
To calm concerns with students at the U of C and other post-secondary schools, Finley suggests Minister Nicolaides provide more than just a broad statement.
"The SU calls on the Minister to put forward a solid plan on how to return to class safely without putting students at risk. Further, the Minister should provide financial support to institutions to allow them to open safely and ensure proper cleaning protocols can be done adequately."
Finley also drew attention to the fact that the UCP government cut more than $90 million in funding to the U of C over the past three years and Nicolaides' statement says nothing about helping the institution pay for costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
"While students are being told to go back to class, the government is turning their back at the same time," he said.
"If the Minister and the UCP government are serious about returning students to class, and doing so safely, then they must step up and provide details and support, otherwise they are putting our campus community at risk."