Some Calgary parents have more clarity on what a return to school will look like as COVID-19 cases start to mount due to a more transmissible Delta variant.
Wednesday, families attending Calgary Board of Education (CBE) schools on the modified calendar received a letter outlining what students can expect when they return to class on Aug. 17.
Mandatory masking remains in place for all staff and students, and students riding yellow buses will also need to don face coverings.
Students and staff are expected to use a daily symptom checklist to decide whether or not to stay home — those with COVID-19 symptoms are strongly recommended to stay home until the symptoms lift.
There will be enhanced cleaning and disinfection of high-traffic and high-touch areas, along with enhanced ventilation. Students and staff are expected to practise proper hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.
Classrooms from kindergarten to Grade 6 will be in cohorts, and no visitors, volunteers or external partners will be allowed in schools at the start of the school year.
Following the order of chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw, contact tracing will no longer require schools to inform close contacts of positive cases, but health measures may be added if the COVID-19 situation worsens, like in the case of an outbreak.
Lockers and change rooms will be opened, band and sports activities allowed, and limited off-site activities will also be allowed.
And CBE facilities will be opened up for evening and weekend school activities.
“We all play a role in ensuring that our return to school is as safe as possible,” CBE chief superintendent of schools Christopher Usih wrote.
“As the school year begins, we will be monitoring the situation closely and following the direction of health authorities to ensure that we are doing everything possible to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in our schools and workplaces.”
The CBE, like school boards across the province, are still waiting on updated guidance from Education Minister Adriana LaGrange.
In a letter sent to parents Wednesday, Calgary Catholic School District chief superintendent Dr. Bryan Szumlas said they have been working on back-to-school guidance.
“For now, we are in a holding pattern until we hear more from the provincial government,” Szumlas wrote. “The ministry of education has indicated that they will share information with us in mid-August.”
Sandra Borowski, CCSD communications specialist, confirmed that the school district is awaiting guidance from the health and education ministries.
“Let me assure you that CCSD’s plan will be safe and reasonable,” Szumlas wrote, stressing that the protection of students, guests and staff is a priority.
Alberta’s ministry of education released a plan for the upcoming 2021-22 school year on June 30. In the plan, it noted that vaccination is an “effective means of protecting Albertans from COVID-19” and part of the government’s plan to lift public health restrictions.
The plan urged eligible Albertans to get the vaccine, but Health Canada has only approved the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine for youth 12 and older.
According to Alberta Health, more than 660,000 children in the province are ineligible to get either dose and remain unvaccinated. Fifty-three per cent of children 12-14 have been fully vaccinated, and 55.8 per cent of Albertans aged 15-19 have both doses.
As of Aug. 9, 67.1 per cent of eligible Albertans have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine and are fully vaccinated, representing 57 per cent of all Albertans.
Tuesday, a spokesperson for Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said school authorities have been provided with supports for a safe learning environment.
“We know that many parents and teachers have questions and an additional guidance document is being finalized and will be released in mid August to support return to school. Alberta’s government will continue to follow the expert advice of Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health,” Nicole Sparrow said in a statement.
On July 28, Hinshaw announced a lifting of public restrictions as part of a move to endemic COVID-19.
On Aug. 16, all provincial masking orders, like on public transit, will be lifted. Isolation following a positive COVID-19 test result will no longer be required, but recommended. Testing will only be available for Albertans requiring patient care decisions. And daycares and schools will get public health measures designed to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses if an outbreak is identified.