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Full, in-person classes expected for fall opening of Alberta schools

Calgary students will see full, in-person school classes come the fall, should the province’s target coronavirus scenario be met.

In a Wednesday press conference, Alberta Minster of Education Adriana LaGrange outlined the three scenarios Alberta schools can expect as the province moves into stage 2 of their re-launch strategy.

“Right now, we expect that students will be at school in September,” LaGrange said.

Schools across Alberta were closed in March as the coronavirus pandemic swept across the world.

LaGrange outlined the three scenarios that Alberta is expecting as re-opening continues. She said the province is targeting the first scenario for their relaunch plan. Overall, the scenarios are identical to the plan mentioned in early May.

  • Scenario 1: Near-normal operations will resume and students will return to daily in-school class with some restrictions.
  • Scenario 2: School classes will only resume partially with additional health requirements.
  • Scenario 3: At home learning will continue.

LaGrange went on to say that the decision on which scenario the provincial government will choose will be made by Aug. 1. Also, school boards need to be prepared for any one of the scenarios and to change them on short notice, she said.

“Our goal is to get us back to normal learning as soon as possible,” LaGrange said.

LaGrange also said that school plans may be altered to fit regional changes in the coronavirus.

Decision will be made by the province

Minister LaGrange said that the decision on which scenario would be adopted would come from the province, after consultation with Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

“However, school authorities will have the autonomy to determine how they meet the public health guidelines, issued under each scenario, and they will be responsible for developing their own academic calendars,” LaGrange said.

Guidelines for the return to K-12 schooling have been posted online. There are links to the different guidelines that should be followed under each of the three scenarios.

Should they regress to Scenario 2, classes would be limited to 15 students, maintaining distance and Minister LaGrange said schools would have to create a modified school calendar.

The re-entry model, Minister LaGrange said, was put together with feedback from 66,000 Albertans.

CBE eager to welcome kids back to classes

The Calgary Board of Education (CBE) said that early analysis of the more than 70,000 responses they’ve received to their re-entry survey suggested parents and kids are looking forward to getting back into class.

“Since in-person classes were cancelled in mid-March, our students, staff and families have told us how much they miss the normal experience with their schools and teachers,” read a statement from the CBE.

“With the government announcement this afternoon, we are feeling more optimistic about this possibility.”

The CBE said they’ve created an internal task force to plan for the return of students on the targeted scenario and any of the possibilities.

That planning team will consider all aspects of returning into the classroom and workplace, including instructional design and delivery, how staff will return to work, capacity of classrooms and meeting rooms, yellow school bus logistics, and other priority actions required to safely reintegrate into the workplace and the classroom, the statement read.

Monitoring summer COVID-19 threat

The province will be looking at the typical measurements they’ve used all along to determine re-entry: Number of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, ICU rates and they’ll look at localized outbreaks.

Dr. Hinshaw said that they’ll be monitoring how the coronavirus continues over the summer months, and make recommendations later in the summer. She said they’ll also look at emerging evidence on school transmission.

“Those are the things that would be informing whether or not we would need to take a different approach, other than an in school return,” she said.

She said she knew there were issues with having children at home with parents doing the schooling while trying to manage a household and their jobs.

“One of the things that we were looking at as we were developing the public health part of the school reentry plan was again looking at balance,” Dr. Hinshaw said.

“We know that there are risks to those children. We know that there are some consequences for broader society to having a universal distance delivered education model.”

Dr. Hinshaw said there is no wholly risk-free model to school re-entry.