A day after students at its schools returned to in-person learning, the chair of the Edmonton Public School Board said she and school trustees want more data from the province about the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on education.
“I think we all want to get off what I’ve been calling the COVID coaster,” Trisha Estabrooks said at an EPSB meeting held via video conference on Tuesday. “This on-again, off-again disruption to student learning that happens when students return to classes during the pandemic.
“The board of trustees will continue to push for access to provincial data, including in-school transmission data.”
In late fall, Alberta moved all students in Grades 7 to 12 to online learning as the province struggled to rein in a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases and outbreaks in schools. Those students moved to online learning on Nov. 30 while students in kindergarten to Grade 6 moved to online learning for the week after their winter break concluded. On Monday, all students who have elected to continue in-person learning returned to their classrooms.
“The board of trustees continues to have faith in the plan as laid out by our administration, and I believe that staff truly are doing their best to reduce the spread of COVID-19 as much as possible,” Estabrooks said Tuesday. “The reality is, however, that our schools will continue to reflect case counts in the general public.”
In addition to data regarding in-school transmission, Estabrooks said the EPSB would like the province to provide it with information regarding the metrics being used to guide provincial decisions when it comes to education during the pandemic.
She said school divisions have yet to receive data regarding in-school transmission, calling that “unfortunate.”
“This data could help staff in our division adapt (and) change safety measures if required,” Estabrooks said.
Global News reached out to the offices of the premier, the health minister and the education minister on Tuesday night for comment on Estabrooks’ requests. On Wednesday afternoon, a spokesperson for Alberta Health offered a response.
“The assessment that in-school transmission has occurred is done by public health,” Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan said. “Generally speaking, as these individuals are already isolating, this determination does not change the risk of exposure.
“If additional steps were required, health officials would alert school authorities.”
McMillan noted that AHS alerts school authorities as part of contact tracing or case notification “that takes place every day.”
“This includes working with schools to determine which students and/or staff have been in close contact with a case,” he said. “Anyone at risk of exposure is isolated.
“Health officials have been working hard to expand our contact-tracing capacity. A dedicated and growing team of contact tracers remains focused on cases in schools.”
“Transparency and clear information to our families, to our parents (and) to our students remains so, so vitally important,” the EPSB board chair said.
“We also look forward to hearing more information about supports for teachers in schools — including contact tracing support for schools — from the Alberta government.
In a letter to students and parents across the province this winter, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said the decision to resume in-class learning was “reaffirmed after the careful consideration of the importance of attending school in person, as well as the latest evidence of COVID-19 cases dropping in all school-age groups in December.”
Estabrooks said Tuesday that the EPSB has already shown itself to be able to adapt while continuing to operate in the midst of a public health crisis.
“We’ve learned in so many different ways of how to navigate the challenges and the ups and downs and the complications of educating children during the pandemic,” she said.
“We continue to work to support safe schools and explore ways to strengthen our reporting process,” McMillan said.
–With files from Global News’ Melissa Gilligan
Watch below: Some Global News videos about schools in Alberta during the COVID-19 pandemic.