Students across the province will be returning to learning in the classroom for the 2020-21 school year, under the government of Alberta’s scenario 1, which is near-normal daily operations with health measures.
“Alberta continues moving ahead with our recovery and relaunch plan. I’m proud of our comprehensive plan that supports the safe return to daily in-school learning. The return of more than 750,000 students to near-normal learning in the new school year is indicative of Alberta’s continued recovery as we work to relaunch our economy and return to our regular everyday lives,” said Premier Jason Kenney.
Under scenario 1, schools will implement public health measures such as frequent cleaning of surfaces, placing hand sanitizers at school entrances and classrooms, grouping students in cohorts, and physical distancing by 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.
Students, staff, parents, and school visitors will be expected to use a self-screening questionnaire daily to determine whether they can enter the school.
“We are determined to do everything that 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.
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,” said the Minister of Education, Adriana LaGrange.
“We are committed to doing everything possible to protect the health and safety of students, staff, and families during the upcoming school year. There is no risk-free approach to COVID-19 but there are also risks to children’s overall health from school closures. We are continually refining our public health advice for schools based on the best available evidence. We also have plans in place to respond quickly when cases are identified. Limiting the spread of the virus in schools will require the dedication and support of all Albertans when the school year begins this fall,” said the Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw.
Students and staff may wear a mask if they choose to. However, practices such as physical distancing, cohorting, frequent handwashing, staying home when sick and increased cleaning of surfaces will continue to be the priority public health measures.
If a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, a public health team will investigate to determine when symptoms developed and support the school to minimize transmission.
While each case will be addressed based on its unique circumstances, it is anticipated that in most cases only the group of students and staff who came in close contact will likely be required to stay home for 14 days, and not the entire school population.
Parents will be notified if a case of COVID-19 is confirmed at school and public health officials will contact those who were in close contact with that person.
If there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in a community or school, health officials will work with Alberta Education and school authorities to make any decision to potentially transition to partial in-class learning or at-home learning.
Decisions will be based on multiple factors including the number of cases in a community or school and the risk of ongoing transmission.
Student safety is the top priority as schools prepare to reopen in September said the Alberta Teachers Association President Jason Schilling.
“Teachers are looking forward to doing the work they love to do with their students, but we remain concerned by the failure of the government to adequately address their concerns. Successful school reopening is critical to the well-being of students, teachers, staff, their families, and the economy, and it requires the confidence of everyone impacted,” Schilling said.
Schilling added, officials were collaborating with the ATA and other stakeholders while developing the initial return-to-school plan. However, collaborations ended in late June.
“Teachers just want the government to give us a fighting chance to make this work. We believe that with clear, supported measures schools could be a safe space for learning, but outstanding concerns need to be addressed before that can happen,” Schilling said.
The ATA has now enlisted the assistance of Lynora Saxinger, CTropMed, MD, FRCPC, an infectious diseases specialist and associate professor of medicine and dentistry at the University of Alberta, to provide information on the current understanding of COVID-19 transmission risk within schools and the range of best practices for safe schools based on current evidence.
“Statements of broad principles are not sufficient. Districts and schools are not well-positioned to interpret or operationalize vague direction. The government needs to set and fund clear and specific mandates for risk mitigation,” Schilling said.
Moving forward, the ATA will reach out to members and parents to ensure they have the best information while supporting efforts to evaluate the effectiveness of different approaches and interventions to ensure the safety of staffers and students.
Rocky View Schools (RVS) Board of Trustees will be welcoming students back to class on Sept. 2 and is finalizing plans under the government of Alberta’s scenario 1.
“The safety and well-being of students and staff is our top priority as we prepare to reopen schools in September,” said Board Chair Fiona Gilbert.
“With this at the forefront of our efforts, RVS will be changing some school routines and practices to employ multiple layers of protection and to adhere to provincial risk mitigation strategies,” she said.
RVS will be cohorting students when possible, enhancing cleaning practices, promoting proper hand hygiene, coughing and sneezing etiquette, adjusting in-school traffic flow and use of space, and assigning seating plans on buses.
RVS is asking families and school staff to diligently screen for any symptoms associated with COVID-19 and to stay home if sick.
RVS is also recommending that parents have contingency plans in place in the event that the province mandates schools move to a blended or at-home learning format.
Parents and staff can review the re-entry plan for scenario 1 at https://www.rockyview.ab.ca/school-re-entry-plan.
The government of Alberta has also developed a re-entry tool kit to prepare parents and students for what to expect in the new school year.
To view videos for students explaining health measures, a parent guide, frequently asked questions, school posters, self-screening questionnaires, and health guidelines please visit, https://www.alberta.ca/k-to-12-school-re-entry-2020-21-school-year.aspx.
“On behalf of the RVS family, we are looking forward to welcoming back our students and staff to safe and secure learning environments for the 2020-21 school year,” said Gilbert.