Fort McMurray’s Catholic and public school divisions have announced they have received approval to move students grades 7-12 from both school divisions to online learning from April 19 to April 30.
In a joint statement, the two school divisions said the decision was made due to an increasing rise in COVID-19 cases as well as the number of staff and students in isolation.
“We all agree in school is the best place for learning. But the overall COVID-19 numbers in Fort McMurray right now are very worrisome,” Fort McMurray Catholic Schools superintendent George McGuigan said in a statement. “We need to bend this curve and we believe that moving grade 7-12 students in this area to virtual learning for two weeks will help.
“It will also help limit some stress on many families because we know isolation is difficult. There are 10 weeks left in our school year, we implore the entire region to work together to help get our students to the finish line.”
Fort McMurray Public School Division superintendent Jennifer Turner said the coordinated effort by both school division is intended to serve as a circuit breaker for the 10 schools in the northern Alberta city that currently have more than one case.
“We believe a shift to virtual learning for our grade 7-12 students will most likely give us enough substitute teachers to maintain safe staffing levels at our elementary schools,” Turner said.
In the statement, the school divisions said there have been 600 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Fort McMurray and about 18 per cent of the region’s population are staff and students.
As of Sunday, Alberta Health data reported 725 active cases and an active case rate of 868.5 per population of 100,000 in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo
Absenteeism rates for students grades 7-12 has been at 47 per cent at the public school division, and 30-35 per cent at the Catholic school division since the Easter break, according to the statement.
Last week, Alberta Health Services announced that students grades 7-12 in both Calgary Board of Education and Calgary Catholic School District schools would also move online starting on Monday.
Alberta Teachers’ Association president Jason Schilling said all options should be considered in order to maintain the safety of staff and students.
“The safety of the staff and students in those buildings is paramount and needs to be done, and we know our schools are as safe as our communities, including moving all students in the province to online learning.
“We know there is transmission happening within those buildings as well so we need to protect that as best we can. If it means moving online, then that’s a serious conversation we need to have,” Schilling said.
NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman released a statement accusing Premier Jason Kenney and the government of not having a plan to deal with the impact of the rising spread of COVID-19 on staff and students.
“The government isn’t even taking the lead on managing these major outbreaks, leaving decisions about schools operations to boards,” Hoffman said.
“There are no additional supports coming from the UCP government to keep as many schools open as possible and nothing has been offered to support parents managing the chaos of having their kids learn from home yet again.”
The government said school boards can request that schools be moved to online learning based on four primary criteria:
- a chronic substitute teacher shortage
- a significant number of students and staff in quarantine or isolation
- recent requests from the board for short-term shifts for schools
- substantial COVID-19 cases in the community