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Alberta working with 3 scenarios for school re-entry plan

Alberta working with 3 scenarios for school re-entry plan
WATCH ABOVE: Albera's education minister has unveiled some scenarios, giving families a better idea of what the next school year could look like. Nicole Stillger reports.

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said Alberta is considering three different scenarios for when in-person classes begin again in schools across the province.

However, she stressed that won’t happen during this school year.

“In-person classes will be cancelled for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year,” LaGrange said.

She explained Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s position on the COVID-19 risk in schools has not changed.

Alberta Education is preparing for three styles of school re-launch, they are:

  • For schools to be open as much as possible under normal conditions
  • For schools to be generally open but with some health restrictions in place, like physical distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE), for instance
  • That teacher-directed at-home learning continues

LaGrange said there is no timeline for the school re-entry plan. She also said it wasn’t known in which stage of the provincial relaunch strategy in-person classes would be included.

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READ MORE: Premier Jason Kenney releases Alberta’s relaunch strategy 

The education minister said the province will “hope for the best and plan for the worst.”

Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange on COVID-19 school closures: ‘We are all in this together’
Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange on COVID-19 school closures: ‘We are all in this together’

LaGrange said the province is working with school boards, teachers, administrators, parents and students, as well with the Alberta Teachers Association and the body of superintendents, to discuss the potential scenarios and receive their feedback.

She said the ministry will share the draft plans of the three scenarios with those involved first.

They are all subject to approval from the chief medical officer of health.

NDP health critic Sarah Hoffman said keeping everyone safe should remain the top priority.

“I think we’ll have to have real serious answers around the safety questions,” Hoffman said Wednesday.

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“Questions around lunchrooms, questions around hallways, questions around playgrounds.”

The executive director of the Strategic Alliance for Alberta Students with Learning Challenges said learning from home is not ideal.

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Greta Gerstner has two children that are in grades 5 and 7 and who have learning disabilities. She says at-home learning “has not been fun” and hopes the needs of high-needs students are top of mind when a decision comes.

“I would certainly hope they would prioritize children with learning challenges first, because this online learning platform is not good for them at all,” Gerstner said.

Working around certain health measures, she said, would be a challenge in bigger class sizes.

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“How can you put six feet in between the kids’ desk when there’s too many kids in the classroom to be able to do that?” she asked.

Gerstner also noted kids have no real concept on physical distancing in a school setting.

“You can’t say ‘social distance, don’t go play for recess,'” she said. “What’s the point of them being in there if they can’t then be together and burn off that energy together? “It’s a bit of a teaser.”

LaGrange said, given the different rates of infection and outbreaks across Alberta, there would be “possibilities for regionalization” in a “targeted” or staged re-opening of classes and schools.

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

The minister praised school boards, parents and teachers for all their hard work during the pandemic.

“What you’ve been able to accomplish in two months is remarkable and inspiring.”

LaGrange said there’s been “tremendous uptake” of at-home learning and everyone involved “quickly adapted.”

According to the government, more than 90 per cent of school authorities are offering online learning, while about half are also emailing, phoning and sending paper-based work home to students.

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READ MORE: Program that provides computers to Alberta students in need says ‘demand has been relentless’

School authorities and the government have provided about 60,000 devices, including laptops, Chromebooks, tablets and iPads, to students for home learning. The devices were distributed based on need, focusing on students who don’t otherwise have access to these devices, have complex needs, or are in high school.

“This approach is working,” LaGrange said of teacher-directed at-home learning, citing feedback from superintendents.

“Our students are receiving the core knowledge they require to ensure they progress.”

Edmonton school asks for tech, food donations during COVID-19 pandemic
Edmonton school asks for tech, food donations during COVID-19 pandemic

She acknowledged this model is not ideal and there are certainly challenges.

“We know that there may be some gaps,” she said.

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“We will be working as we launch our re-entry plan to look at where those gaps are and what we can do to address them.”

A provincial helpline has been set up to address parents’ questions and direct them to school authorities, if needed.

The intent is to provide advice to families, particularly to parents of children with disabilities, who have questions about their child’s program now that the traditional delivery process has changed, the government said.

Parents can reach the helpline by calling 780-422-6548 (toll-free by dialing 310-0000, followed by the 10-digit phone number) or by emailing studentsupport@gov.ab.ca.

More than 4,000 curriculum resources are available on the LearnAlberta.ca website.

Hoffman, however, said that’s not good enough.

“Announcing a phone number and email address to support students with special needs when you’ve just fired more than 20,000 people — most of whom were working directly with those kids — should not be celebrated.”

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The announcement comes less than a week after Premier Jason Kenney said schools will stay closed, at least in the traditional sense, for the rest of the academic year.

“We will not be reopening the schools as a general rule for the balance of this academic year,” Kenney said last Thursday.

He did note that some schools 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.

In-person classes were cancelled across the province on March 15.