The Calgary Board of Education has been working for weeks on online education plans in the event the coronavirus impacted city classrooms, the public board’s chief superintendent said Monday.
On Sunday, on the advice of Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange declared that K-12 classes across the province would be cancelled.
As a result, both the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) and the Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD) announced that K-12 classes in their schools would be cancelled indefinitely starting on Monday, Mar. 16.
During a press conference on Monday, CBE Chief Supt. Christopher Usih said this was a unique experience for students and families.
“We also recognize as parents grapple with the challenge we’re dealing with globally, students and young people have a lot of questions about why they’re not in school today,” Usih said.
“We’re not doing this in isolation. We’re working closely not only with our families [but] certainly with teachers who are professionals and understand the need to be supportive at this time.”
Usih was asked if the CBE was prepared to become one of Alberta’s main education providers as they look to roll out online education for older students.
“We have a team that has been working now for weeks around online readiness to support learning. The continuation of learning is key and I’m really proud of the work our team has done to support student learning because we recognize that is the top of mind for parents,” he said.
Calgary teachers in a holding pattern
Brettney Savoie, an English teacher at Western Canada High School, said moving to an online-only curriculum will vary in difficulty from teacher to teacher.
“Some teachers do a lot of their course work digitally, and some don’t do any at all. Hopefully the CBE-Learn resources can help the teachers that need it the most.”
Savoie said that CBE directors will be meeting with the school principals on Wednesday, in hopes they can provide the teachers with another update by Thursday.
“We had something in place to tell families, but we’ve already been told that it’s not doable anymore. As far as I know, diploma exams will still happen.”
Parents, care providers taking things in stride
For Calgary parent Nicole Marr, the school closures haven’t changed how she’s handling things with her kids.
“We had planned to keep our kids home this week because we’re still waiting on our COVID-19 test results. The school closures didn’t change any of our plans for the next two weeks.”
Marr has started to inform her kids about what has been happening with the coronavirus.
“We’ve been open with them about everything and they understand the risks of being around other people, why we can’t go visit grandma, what “flatten the curve” means, and why school has closed,” Marr said.
“There have been a few questions [from them] and we do our best to answer. Sometimes, the answer is simply we don’t know yet.”
As for information from the CBE being given out to parents, Marr received a letter from staff at Dr. Martha Cohen School in the southeast, where her children attend classes.
“They humanized the teachers for us, pointing out that they are also struggling with childcare and health issues. People need to be reminded of that,” she said.
Due to the government’s reaction to the pandemic, Marr expects the situation to last for a few more months.
“We will survive just like we always do. It will take a long time to get back to normal and there will be problems along the way,” she said.
“But we can do it with the help and support of friends, family, neighbours, and strangers that are willing to help,” she said.
Janelle Congo, who runs a day home in the city, is glad that she hasn’t been shut down due to the pandemic during a time where she’s trying to figure out the new normal as schools close.
“Since I can only care for six children at a time, I’m considered a low-risk.”
Congo said she was taking care of four kids on Monday and letting them lead the day for activities, such as having the older kids stack large cups and letting the younger kids knock them over or bringing them outdoors.
“We took a walk to get some fresh air,” Congo said.