Alberta students head back to school Sept. 1 – but will the first line of defence, a daily health self-assessment, do what it’s supposed to?
The province first rolled out its school re-entry plan July 21. It included the requirement for parents, students, teachers and staff to review a daily self-screening questionnaire. It determines if they can go to school or if they should stay home and perhaps seek further assistance through 811 and Alberta Health Services.
Here’s the language from the July 21 provincial release:
In the Alberta school re-entry plan online, the language changes slightly:
While the province says it’s a must, there’s no tracking and no accountability aspect to this. At least, it’s not mandated to have a system in place. It something all parties will do at home, before school starts.
“Alberta Health is relying on people to do their own self-assessment,” wrote Sherene Khaw, assistant communications director, Alberta Health, in an email response.
“Just as we ask Albertans to wash their hands and cover coughs, we also ask that these health measures are followed to help keep students and school authority staff safe at schools.”
Further, when the Calgary Board of Education (CBE), which has more than 128,000 students, was asked about accountability, they referred to the Alberta Health online re-entry document (page 4).
There is, however, no mechanism in place to ensure the checklist was complete.
“It is our expectation that families and employees will complete the screening every day before sending their children to school or coming to work,” read an email response from the CBE.
‘It’s really on the honour system.’
ATA president Jason Schilling said in his last conversation with Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, she said the assessment tool would be a parental responsibility.
“The ATA recommended that government implement a robust fitness for school assessment regimen to ensure student and staff safety with clearer protocols and mechanisms for enforcement but that did not gain traction with the Ministry,” Schilling said.
“It’s really on the honour system.”
Will the honour system work?
Phil Butterfield, principal at Connect Charter School in SW Calgary, said he didn’t think the honour system would work.
“The people who are going to comply with that are going to be the same group that don’t need to be put in a position of making it a requirement anyway,” he said.
“They’re going to do it because it’s the right thing to do.”
Connect’s electronic solution
Prior to beginning their staggered re-entry last week, Butterfield said they had in place an electronic tracking system.
Each day, parents of the 624 Connect Charter School students must complete the daily screening tool online. It’s fashioned after the Alberta self-assessment. If the answers to the daily questionnaire are no, they get a green light. If they answer yes to any of them, they get a stop sign and next steps.
They’ve also made mandatory a daily temperature check.
It was put together by the school’s education technologist in the final weeks before re-entry. Butterfield said there was no additional cost, just time. Time to launch it online, and the time required for staff to review the information and take potential action.
“We do this because our students are not coming from just within one community,” said Butterfield.
“It’s not like there are cohorts of students already in the community who would just be bringing their cohort into the school.”
Butterfield said they’ve taken a “very, very serious stance” to ensure parents, teachers and students are complying.
Parents behind mandatory checklist
The school did it with general parent support, too. Butterfield said they included it in a parent survey in June and overall, he characterized the response as “favourable.”
“We felt the decisions that we were making were supported by our by our parents,” he said.
“Because we’re a publicly-funded charter school, we’re operating autonomously, so we’re essentially a one-school system and that gave us, perhaps, a little more flexibility.”
Connect has had students come in without the screening. They’re taken to the gymnasium where staff, in full personal protective equipment, are waiting to conduct the screening.
The school has also created three outdoor classrooms to provide additional space to students. They were also set to make masks mandatory, even before the province mandated it.
“Every precaution that we’ve put in place has been with that fundamental goal in mind of keeping our students and our staff as safe as possible,” Butterfield said.