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About 8,000 Calgary students, staff in isolation as COVID-19 pandemic rages on

Click to play video: 'Calgary Catholic School District adding new measures to fight COVID-19'
Calgary Catholic School District adding new measures to fight COVID-19
WATCH ABOVE: The Calgary Catholic School District is adding new measures to help fight against COVID-19. As Christa Dao reports, it comes as thousands of staff and students from various school boards are self-isolating. – Nov 13, 2020

In a battle against a coronavirus that’s currently winning, the Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD) has announced new measures hoping to tip the scales.

The new measures come as the CCSD reports that nearly 6,000 students and staff are currently in isolation, and there are approximately 200 positive cases in Catholic schools.

For the Calgary Board of Education (CBE), just under 2,000 students there are in isolation and another 195 staff members are also staying home.

Chief superintendent Bryan Szumlas told parents in a letter sent on Friday that all extracurricular activities will be cancelled, effective Monday.

“Due to the steady incline of cases in our geographic area, Calgary Catholic is going to pull back all extracurricular activities,” Szumlas said. “Only regularly, scheduled credit courses will happen in our schools.

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“The decision will be re-evaluated in a few weeks.”

On Thursday, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said there are alerts and outbreaks in more than 300 schools across the province, and there are more than 1,000 active cases in total.

“Schools continue to mirror the rise in transmission that is being seen in our communities, and this community transmission rise is putting them at risk,” she said.

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With Alberta Health Services experiencing challenges with contact tracing, the CBE said it will now contact staff and students first via email, and then wait for AHS to do its standard followup.

Students and staff that are considered to be “impacted” are required to isolate until 14 days after the last time the positive case was in the school or until AHS confirms official close contacts and provides isolation dates, the CBE said.

Students in isolation will be supported to learn where possible through Google Classroom or D2L, an online learning hub.  

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Student advocacy group Support Our Students is calling for smaller class sizes and more funding for schools immediately.  
“I think we can clearly see that the pandemic is definitely interrupting students’ education,” said the group’s executive director Medeana Moussa. “And I think the measures that were put in place were inadequate.
“The teachers and principals have been doing the lion’s share of the work holding this together. The reason that we are now at a point where so many kids are isolating is that they don’t know from AHS (about) where the cases are coming from and the tracing, so they are now changing their reaction and their protocols to try to give AHS a chance to catch up.
“Teachers and principals can only do so much and they are working very hard to do jobs that are outside of their original mandate. We need more resources, they need more support, they should not be left there to do all of this work.”
In response, education ministry press secretary Colin Aitchison wrote, in part:

“It’s disappointing that the NDP and their allies like Support Our Students continue to claim that our schools are unsafe, especially given that the evidence clearly indicates otherwise. As of today, only 0.1 per cent of staff and students have active cases of COVID-19, and our schools have been able to mitigate spread by following our provincial guidelines.”

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With regard to funding, the statement says the government remains committed to providing schools with the resources they need to ensure the safety and well-being of staff and students.

Aitchison’s statement also notes that taxpayers have funded tens of millions of dollars in PPE, masks and HVAC and ventilation upgrades.

“We are in constant communication with education stakeholders, including the College of Alberta School Superintendents and the Alberta School Boards’ Association, and we continue to follow the expert advice of Alberta’s chief medical officer of health. We remain committed to adjusting our school guidelines as required,” Aitchison said.

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