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COVID-19: Alberta schools to stay closed for rest of academic year; province eyeing early summer start

Alberta schools are cancelled for remainder of academic year, possible summer openings
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says schools will be closed for the rest of the academic year, but the province is looking at options.

Alberta’s schools will stay closed, at least in the traditional sense, for the rest of the academic year, Premier Jason Kenney announced on Thursday.

As part of the province’s relaunch strategy, Kenney relaxed a number of restrictions, but said “we will not be re-opening the schools as a general rule for the balance of this academic year.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Alberta phased relaunch strategy will see some restrictions eased Friday

Kenney said when schools were closed back in March, it was made clear that it would be for the remainder of the year, and that hasn’t changed.

Some schools, however, might open in a limited capacity “on a trial basis.”

“That would take into account the possibility of summer classes, specialized programs, providing schools with some more guidance on, for example, the number of students permitted and physical distancing,” Kenney said, adding that Education Minister Adriana LaGrange has been consulting with school boards.

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Kenney said particular school boards or schools like charter schools may bring forward plans for their individual reopening to be assessed by the Department of Education and Alberta Health.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: ATA, CBE pleased with Calgary teachers adapting to online learning

When asked about why the government is making such a definitive call when there are still about eight weeks left to the school year, Kenney said it was made in consultation with boards, which have said it would likely take weeks to get classrooms ready.

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“If we were to say today that they should be reopened, that, in most instances, they would not be able to do so until about the third week of May,” the premier said.

Kenney says school boards have said they would prefer not to come back
Kenney says school boards have said they would prefer not to come back

Edmonton Public School Board chair Trisha Estabrooks said the education minister reached out to the board earlier this week to consult with them and provide some details on what the relaunch plan means for schools.

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Estabrooks said the school board is pleased with the plan and will continue to follow the advice of the province and the chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, as they did when the decision was made to close schools.

“It’s really important that we continue to follow her advice but also receive really clear and realistic guidelines on what the re-entry plan does look like when we return to school,” she said Friday.

Kenney said the government is also looking at options for making up for the time students have lost, and will miss out on for the rest of the year.

“We are looking at whether we can, later in the summer, perhaps regain some of the time that’s been lost in this academic year by bringing the schools back earlier,” Kenney said.

“Again, all of that is subject to consultation with the school boards and the advice of the chief medical officer [of health].”
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Estabrooks admitted that some of the details with the plan for students, particularly the notion that they could return before September, still need to be figured out.

“I just don’t feel that that’s realistic,” she said. “I think students and families, as well as our staff — we’re used to having that summer break, quite honestly. And we would have some contractual obligations under our collective agreements where bringing back staff could be problematic.

“So some of those details — I know Premier Kenney hinted at that — but I think some of those details have to be worked out.”

Kenney said he was confident in this decision making, adding that it’s in line with what most other provinces in Canada — as well as jurisdictions in Europe and the U.S. — were doing.

With files from Caley Ramsay, Global News.