The province of Alberta is extending the winter break for students.
Students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 will now be returning in-person to classrooms on Jan. 10 due to a spike in Omicron variant cases.
Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange also announced that diploma exams would be cancelled, which were set to begin on Jan. 11.
“This pause will give school authorities the time they need to assess and consider staffing and operational impacts, and I’m confident that this additional time to plan will position school authorities for a successful startup,” she said.
LaGrange said that this decision wasn’t made lightly, but a week-long delay would better position schools for reopening.
The President of the Alberta Teacher’s Association, Jason Schilling, called the delay beneficial, and the cancelling of diploma exams a “smart move.” He said on Twitter that he hopes the Ministry of Education will meaningfully engage with the ATA for advice over the next week.
The Opposition Alberta NDP also praised the delay. But, they criticized the lack of planning on the government’s part.
“Still, we don’t have a plan. Nothing of the sort. We need to properly staff schools,” said NDP MLA and Deputy Leader Sarah Hoffman.
“This government has failed to do this every step of the way during the pandemic.”
LaGrange said that the province would provide another update on back to school learning late next week.
Other provinces in Canada have similarly delayed their back to school plans due to the rise of Omicron cases.
No supports coming for parents
The Minister said that they didn’t because she what the individual needs of parents would be, she wouldn’t know what kind of supports would be needed for parents.
“We don’t know what those supports could look like, but I know that parents have been amazing throughout this whole pandemic, knowing that we’ve had to be nimble and they also want to ensure that their children are safe,” said LaGrange.
Minister LaGrange recognized the week delay would affect parents of elementary age students in particular. She recognized that many of these parents were preparing to return to work.
“Well, as always, the daycare centers, etc. are going to be open,” she said.
Hoffman said parents are left to fend for themselves.
“This is going to be so hard on families and the critical learning of students. Again, we continue to call for more funding to be flowed directly to families to help pay for at-home learning resources,” she said.
“Household budgets have already been hammered so hard by this government. Parents cannot bear the additional costs for emergency childcare or at home learning supports.”
Staffing shortages responsibility of school authorities
The Minister said that the week delay in returning classrooms would give school authorities more time to evaluate growing Omicron cases.
“School authorities have told us they need more time to prepare and to understand what the evolving COVID situation could mean for their school communities in terms of staffing, and potential operational impacts,” said LaGrange.
“We want to be absolutely sure when we bring our students back that we do have the staffing in place, because we’re not sure right now as to whether the staffing will be adversely affected,” she said.
Minister LaGrange said that any staffing shortages would be the responsibility of individual school authorities to deal with.
“It is the responsibility of school authorities—98 per cent of the funding from education goes directly to school authorities to deal with their local school realities,” she said.
“We will know within the first few days of returning next week for the staff members as to what those impacts will be from a staffing level, then obviously our schools will also have to find out where the student impact has been as well.”
Rapid tests, medical grade masks being delivered to schools
Approximately 8.6 million rapid tests and 16.5 million medical grade masks will be distributed when students return to school.
Minister LaGrange said that this would provide 10 tests for each student and school staff member across the province.
“Distribution details are being finalized and more information on both rapid tests and masks will be shared next week,” she said.