Students across Alberta should plan for a return to classrooms under “near normal” conditions in September, according to Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange.
The Alberta government announced on Wednesday that schools will reopen for the beginning of the 2020-21 school year with students attending daily classes in-person with some health measures in place. From the three scenarios that the province outlined in early May, schools will follow the first scenario, which involves the lightest restrictions on preventive and physical-distancing measures.
“We all know that students learn best in the classroom with their teachers and their peers, provided that it’s safe to do so,” Ms. LaGrange said. “Based on the information we have at hand right now, we expect that students will be at school in September."
The United Conservative Party government cancelled in-person classes on March 15 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. On May 6, the province said classrooms would remain closed for the rest of the academic year while the Ministry of Education considered preparing for three methods of school relaunch.
In the second scenario, in-school classes would resume intermittently at school with health restrictions in place. Class sizes could be limited to 15 people with two-metre physical-distancing requirements. The third scenario would see teacher-led learning at home continue.
But Ms. LaGrange said the province is holding off on its final decision until Aug. 1 to reassess the state of the pandemic and monitor cases in the province.
Alberta released its school re-entry plan after Premier Jason Kenny announced on Tuesday that Stage 2 of reopening will go into effect for the entire province on Friday, a week earlier than initially planned. In addition to lifting restrictions for gyms, pools and other services, the announcement included opening schools for Grade 12 diploma exams and summer courses.
Health officials said Wednesday there were 371 active cases and 42 people in hospital, six of them in the intensive care unit. No deaths were reported on Wednesday, with the total remaining at 151.
But schools should be prepared if an increase in COVID-19 cases causes the province to switch scenarios.
“All school boards will need to be ready to transition from one scenario to the other on short notice to adapt to any changes in the COVID-19 situation,” Ms. LaGrange said. “The reality is that the COVID-19 environment requires us to be flexible over the next school year.”
Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw said the government’s school re-entry plan will detail guidelines for health and safety procedures, including grouping students in cohorts, reorganizing rooms to create more space and requiring masks when physical distancing is not possible.
“We are hopeful that students can return to learning in September in a way that’s close to normal operations,” she said. “Important hygiene measures will be in place.”
While the province will determine the scenario in which schools will operate, individual schools boards will assess how they implement guidelines and health measures, the Education Minister said.
But parents are concerned that this could leave schools boards with the responsibility to pay for personal protective equipment and other measures to keep students safe, according to the Alberta School Councils’ Association, a parental group that has consulted with schools across the province for 90 years.
“Parents really believe that if it’s necessary, we need to have health measures in place," said Brandi Rai, president of the ASCA. “From an organizational standpoint, individual districts should not have to cut money from their classrooms to provide additional cleaning supplies and PPE that staff and students will need.”
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