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Coronavirus: Will students return to Alberta classrooms this school year? Call is Dr. Hinshaw’s

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As parents across Alberta struggle to work from home while trying to help their children with distance learning, the big question is: how long will it last?

“I don’t have those answers,” said Trisha Estabrooks, chair of Edmonton Public Schools.

“That really is the decision of the government of Alberta.”

Estabrooks said weeks ago, prior to school closures, when administration and staff started putting a plan of action in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they were directed by the province and Alberta’s chief medical officer of health to think long-term.

Estabrooks said the board was told there’s a good chance schools will be closed until the end of the year.

“We take that advice seriously.”

First day of home schooling for many Edmonton students
First day of home schooling for many Edmonton students

All schools were closed to students on March 16 and Grade 12 diploma exams have been cancelled in Alberta.

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The government also announced every student will receive final grades and will receive a report card appropriate to the grade level.

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“All students who were on track to progress to the next grade will,” the government said.

READ MORE: Alberta government releases plan to keep K-12 students learning amid COVID-19 pandemic

School boards across the province are waiting on direction from the province.

“Edmonton Catholic Schools is planning for remote learning until the end of June,” said Lori Nagy with Edmonton Catholic Schools.

Nagy said if Alberta Education advises the division that students can return to classrooms, “then we will definitely change our focus and be ready to teach students once classes resume.”

Calgary school boards transition to online learning during COVID-19 pandemic
Calgary school boards transition to online learning during COVID-19 pandemic

Alberta Education said in-person classes remain cancelled indefinitely.

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“There is no current timeline for return,” said Colin Aitchison, press secretary for Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange.
Aitchison said the department will follow the advice of Alberta’s chief medical officer of health when deciding when classes can resume.
On March 14, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the pandemic will not end in weeks.
Hinshaw told Albertans: “There won’t be a clear opportunity to re-open schools, likely not until September at the earliest.”
The UCP announced it will be redirecting $128 million in funding initially slotted for K-12 schools in the province into Alberta’s COVID-19 response.
“Regular funding levels will be restored to school authorities when in-person classes resume or in July, whichever comes first,” said Aitchison.
Alberta cuts $128M in K-12 education funding to boost COVID-19 response
Alberta cuts $128M in K-12 education funding to boost COVID-19 response
Estabrooks said, at first glance, the two-month funding cut looked grim for educational assistants, but said the province has allowed each school division flexibility on where to make cuts.
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“Can I say with certainty which jobs will be kept and which jobs will be lost? I can’t at this point,” she said.

“I don’t want to downplay that– that is significant,” Estabrooks added. “We know it will impact students.”

“Just because we’re in a pandemic it doesn’t mean the needs of our students decrease. In fact, for many students, the needs are increasing.”