Parents mulling education options as online registration opens in Calgary amidst pandemic
CALGARY -- Parents and guardians in Alberta face deadlines for registering their children for online classes this year as protests continue over the province’s plans for reopening schools.
Registration for online classes officially began Wednesday for Calgary Board of Education (CBE) students. A deadline of Aug. 24 has been set for parents to decide. If they opt in to the online route, students will have the option to return back to in-person classes in February.
The Calgary Catholic School District also opened its online registration this week with a declaration deadline of Aug. 21 at midnight. Catholic students must commit to a full year of online schooling.
Rocky View Schools parents can expect an email on Friday to register for online courses with a deadline of August 24.
The CBE says if students take the online route, they can opt out in February.
"When students have an opportunity to transition back into classes, we would then undergo a process by which both from a reassignment of hub teachers back to their home school," said CBE board member Joanne Pitman.
It all comes at a time when many parents are struggling to determine what might be the best option for their children.
Calgary parent Nita Tomie will be returning her children to school this September. She says one of her biggest concerns remains in figuring out how students will properly physical distance at a time when Alberta is seeing some of its largest class sizes on record.
"Honestly there are so many kids and there are so many different surfaces so I don’t know how they can keep up with sanitation," Tomie said. "We need to know and we haven’t been given those guidelines."
Tammie Good has a child going into Grade 9, and supports the province's back-to-school plan.
"I just think having as much social distancing as they can but the masks as well is going to help protect our children," Good said. "I've seen firsthand the last few months what's happened to my own children for being isolated with their mental health, with these feelings of isolation and anxiety."
The provincial government has pledged a safe return to class and physical distancing will be addressed by spacing out desks so students don’t face each other. Non-medical masks or face coverings will also be mandatory for students in Grades 4 and up.
The province adds that hand sanitizer will be made available at all entrances to schools, although teachers will likely be on the hook for increased cleaning as custodial staff will be limited at some schools.
That’s concerning news for parents in Airdrie who rallied Wednesday outside MLA Angela Pitts office.
The group Teachers and Parents for Safe School Reopening is calling on the province to hire more staff to reduce class sizes, ensure substitute teachers have sick leave during the first three stages of COVID-19 precautions, and increase supports for teacher and family safety.
Jeremy Klug said he has not decided if he and his wife will send their kids back, or go the online route.
"We will probably be waiting until the last minute to make our decision," Klug said. "The rollout so far seems like its adhoc. It's like they are making it up as they go along and that's not inspiring confidence."
David Gray, on the wall of the Alberta Moms and Dads Facetime page said, "This entire fiasco has been rushed. They had five months to properly plan and figure out a way to efficiently and safely bring children back to school and they waited four and a half of it.
Alberta’s NDP are echoing those statements with Education Critic Sarah Hoffman demanding the UCP government provide an additional $1 billion in funding to maximize safety in schools.
The NDP hope the province will cap school class sizes at 15 students — much like the Ontario model currently in place — but the UCP says that would require hiring an additional 13,000 teachers which is not feasible at this time.
British Columbia announced Tuesday that it would be pushing back the start of the school year from Sep. 8 to an undetermined date to allow teachers and staff additional time to ensure pandemic guidelines will be observed.
According to the office of the education minister, there are no plans for Edmonton to follow suit.
"Here in Alberta, we continue to follow the expert medical advice of our chief medical officer of health, who approved our school re-entry plan," said Colin Aitchison, press secretary for the office of the minister of education, in a statement released Wednesday. "The plan also has support from our school superintendents and school boards, and was developed in consultation with the education system.
"At this point, the advice does not include delaying the start of the school year. We will continue to work with Dr. Hinshaw and our education system, and will make adjustments as necessary."