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Calgary high school student believes re-quarantine is ‘inevitable’

After being in quarantine for more than a week, a student at Henry Wise Wood High School is concerned there will be more interruptions to her education.

The CBE has told LiveWire Calgary that they’re being told to be prepared for a possible full closure of schools once again.

Alisa, a Grade 12 student at Wise Wood, was in class for less than two days at the start of the 2020 school year before she and several other students were told that they were exposed to a positive case of COVID-19.

Since then, she has been at home attending her classes remotely.

“I personally sent an email to my teachers being like, ‘hey, I’m really reliant on any online updates you put out,’ and just instantly opened up communication with my teachers,” said Alisa.

According to the Calgary Board of Education, teachers had very little time to prepare for this situation, which made it difficult to manage and communicate with students.

“Since we’re just making it through our usual settling period, there are often changes in terms of staffing or course enrollment,” said Joanne Pitman, the CBE’s superintendent of school improvement.

“We’ve had to do some initial juggling.”

Pitman added that the CBE has supported a “scope and sequence” of the curriculum so that teachers identify the most essential outcomes that are connected to the first term and the second term of the school year.

That way, they can identify where students may have some gaps based on requirements for quarantine.

An ‘inevitable’ reoccurrence

But having to catch up is not Alisa’s main concern.

“I’m not worried about falling behind,” she said.

“What I’m mostly worried about is that I’m going to be sent back to school next Monday, and I’ll spend couple of days in classes and then I’ll be told once again ‘Oh you’ve been in contact with a case.’”

There are more than 1,000 students at Henry Wise Wood. The school’s principal sent out a letter to parents saying many students haven’t been adhering to COVID-19 guidelines such as distancing where possible and wearing masks.

Wise Wood was the first Calgary high school to announce an outbreak. By Alberta Health’s definition, an outbreak is two or more cases at the same school.

“I’m going to use (Premier) Jason Kenney’s words,” said Alisa.

“It’s really inevitable that something like this happens again.”

She explained that there are so many students, the majority of which are taking public transit, being “crammed” into the building.

Alisa isn’t alone in thinking that this could happen again.

Pitman said that students having to quarantine multiple times may be a likely scenario.

“It very well may occur based on the levels of cases that continue within the community overall,” said Pitman.

“However, we are going to have to continue to navigate how we make sure that students have access to quality instruction.”

A plan of action

More than usual, there has been an emphasis on the need for teachers to have an online presence.

“All of our teachers are required to have an online learning environment,” said Pitman.

“One of the elements that we have asked is that all teachers continue to update and document their daily learning activities as changes can certainly happen for students overnight or over the course of a day.”

Those daily learning activities are monitored by the principals of each school. The principal is responsible for reporting to an education administrator, who is in touch with Pitman herself.

But there’s no overarching model or guideline for all teachers to follow.

“Our teachers are coming up with creative ways to stay in contact with their students,” said Pitman.

“And that looks different in each of our schools.”

Technical difficulties

While there is a plan in place, Alisa said going back and forth between online and in-person is frustrating.

“It’s a little bit disorienting,” said Alisa.

“I personally don’t understand why we can’t fully integrate into online learning.”

While some students may think that fully integrating online is the best idea, their parents may disagree.

“My parents are part of an older generation that is a little bit out of touch with technology,” said Alisa.

“They don’t trust that my teachers will be able to provide a standard education through technology.”

She added that she has noticed some of her teachers are also struggling with technology and the online teaching environment.

Similar to what happened in March, switching online may be mandatory in the near future.

According to Pitman, the CBE has been told to be ready for schools possibly closing again. Part of the Alberta Education requirements is that school boards should be prepared to shift to full online delivery.

That was part of the education re-entry rollout earlier this year.

“People who will make that particular determination are working within Alberta Health and the ministry of education,” said Pitman.

“They’ve identified that we need to be prepared for those plans.”