The Alberta government has laid out three different scenarios for how students could return to in-person class during the 2020-21 school year, but is hoping to get students back to class as close to normal as possible, in September
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange made the announcement during the provincial COVID-19 update on Wednesday, when she said that the province will decide which scenario will be implemented by Aug. 1.
“Based on the information we have at hand right now, we expect that students will be at school in September,” she said.
LaGrange said that first scenario would see students return to class normally, with regular class sizes and additional health measures.
“Teachers, school boards and parents did their absolute best to adapt to a different way of learning, as they guided and supported students at home since March,” LaGrange said.
“We all know, though, that students learn best in the classroom with their teachers and their peers.”
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said there are discussions taking place on what extra measures schools would need to implement in that first, likely scenario.
“Important hygiene measures will be in place — cleaning and disinfecting, routine screening for illness, a stay-at-home policy for staff and students who are ill,” she said. “Physical distancing wherever possible. Students may be grouped in cohorts, and rooms could be reorganized to create more space.”
In that first scenario, Hinshaw said that masks would likely not be required but could be used if a student is sick or if physical distancing is not possible.
The second scenario would see in-school classes only partially resumed due to additional health requirements. In that second scenario, classes could be limited in size to 15 people with strict two-metre social distances.
The third, most restrictive option, would see students remain at home.
The government has posted its complete school re-entry plan online, including details about potential health measures surrounding each scenario.
“I encourage families to grow through them, and for parents to talk to their children about what school may look like after summer break,” LaGrange said.
She added that while the government is “targeting a return to near-normal operations,” the end decision will rely on how the virus behaves in Alberta in the coming months.
“How we return to in-class learning may vary regionally and will depend on the number of COVID-19 cases in total in that area,” LaGrange said.
“Our guiding principle is to always put safety first, for our students and for our staff.”
Hinshaw said that Albertans should continue to be vigilant in stopping the spread in order to keep the first scenario a possibility.
“For us to maintain this low level of transmission, we must all do our part. This is especially true as more of us are leaving our homes and starting to see others,” Hinshaw said.
“We are hopeful that students can return to learning in school in September in a way that’s close to normal operations.”
Schools planning for all scenarios
LaGrange said that while the government would decide which scenario will be implemented, individual school boards will be able to adjust how they follow those guidelines.
“School authorities will have the autonomy to determine how they meet the public health guidelines issued under each scenario,” she said, adding that all school boards in the province should be prepared to adapt and change plans last minute if the situation in the province worsens.
“The reality is, that the COVID-19 environment requires all of us to be flexible and nimble in the next school year,” LaGrange said.
Several school divisions in the province told Global News on Wednesday that they have already been having regular meetings regarding potential opening plans.
On Wednesday, the Calgary Catholic School District said it has a pandemic committee meeting once a week.
The Edmonton Catholic School Board said that it has a re-entry committee that has been meeting several times a week to discuss “what will be necessary in all scenarios.”
The Edmonton Public School Board said in a statement that it is “continuing to plan for all three scenarios.”
“We appreciate receiving the information now, so we can continue preparing for the upcoming school year under the province’s direction. Regardless of what our return to learning looks like in September, safety is our top priority,” said a statement from EPSB chair Trisha Estabrooks.
The Calgary Board of Education also said Wednesday it had also delegated an internal task force to lead planning.
“This team will consider all aspects of returning into the classroom and workplace, including instructional design and delivery, how staff will return to work, capacity of classrooms and meeting rooms, yellow school bus logistics, and other priority actions required to safely reintegrate into the workplace and the classroom,” said a statement from the board.
The president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association said Wednesday he felt there could be issues keeping students safe when it comes to bigger class sizes.
“I think that the plan still has holes in it where we need to address some safety measures, especially when we get into social distancing and items like that because we know that we have class size issues in this province,” Jason Schilling said.
“I know teachers are looking forward to getting back, but we need to make sure that everything is in place to ensure it’s safe.”
In-person classes were cancelled across the province on March 15 due to the pandemic and concerns of transmission. At the end of April, Premier Jason Kenney said schools would be staying closed, at least in the traditional sense, for the rest of the academic year.
In early May, LaGrange had outlined the three different scenarios the province was considering when in-person classes begin again in schools.
–With files from Emily Mertz, Global News