With the school year fast approaching and the government yet to announce what — if any — COVID-19 measures will be in place when kids return to class, the Edmonton Public School Board has written a letter to Education Minister Adriana LaGrange asking her to bring back the same health protocols that were in place last year.
“A lot of parents are waiting,” EPSB chair Trisha Estabrooks told reporters on a video conference call Wednesday afternoon.
She said she has received an overwhelming amount of emails from parents wanting to know what COVID-19 measures will be in place in schools before deciding to enrol their children in online classes or allowing them to go to classes in person.
“We’re waiting for direction, and the wait is frustrating,” Estabrooks said. “We need time to organize… (and to) sit down with the numbers and figure out how to staff.
“We need clarity… We needed it two weeks ago.”
Global News has not seen the letter but the EPSB said it plans to make the document public on Thursday.
Estabrooks said she feels that overall, the public health measures that were in place in schools last year worked quite well and she believes if they are implemented again this year, it will likely mean less disruption for students throughout the school year.
In the letter to LaGrange, Estabrooks said the EPSB also asks that if the government won’t return to its previous COVID-19 protocols for schools, that school boards be given the autonomy to come up with their own public health plan.
Health measures in place last year included mandatory masking for staff and students, enhanced cleaning protocols, self-screening for COVID-19 symptoms by students and staff and requiring visitors to make an appointment before entering a school.
Global News reached out to LaGrange’s office for comment on the letter. In an emailed statement, spokesperson Nicole Sparrow noted that in June, “school divisions received a detailed plan that includes contingency scenarios for continuing student learning if there is a significant change in the COVID-19 situation.”
“At that time, we communicated to boards that a confirmation of this plan would be given prior to the beginning of the regular school year,” the email reads.
“An additional health guidance document to support return to schools is being finalized and will be released in mid-August.”
As of next week, Alberta will scale back COVID-19 testing and contact tracing and no longer require people who test positive for the disease to self-isolate, though the province still recommends people do so. Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw has said the move is an attempt to reallocate resources that have been used on the coronavirus pandemic to other pressing health issues.
Many parents have expressed concern about the province’s shift in its approach to the pandemic, particularly because children under the age of 12 are currently not eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine shot.
“We’re elected to represent parents and families,” Estabrooks said Wednesday. “We had heard a number of concerns.
“We are three weeks from the beginning of the start of the next school year and there’s still a lot of uncertainty.”
She noted that the EPSB relies on Hinshaw’s advice, but added that she hopes “she sees the importance of continuing these restrictions.”
The number of COVID-19 cases in Alberta has been growing by hundreds of cases a day recently as many health experts say they believe Canada is entering a fourth wave of the pandemic.
Hinshaw has recently said she understands the concerns parents have about sending kids back to school but also pointed out schools have not been a “dominant spreader” of COVID-19.
“For kids, it’s really important to think about not just the risk of COVID, but all of the other risks that our kids face, and to try to put that into context,” she said last week.
Hinshaw noted that while there is no medical risk to children wearing masks in schools, wearing masks may create problems when it comes to developmental, communication and social skills.
“That’s why it’s really critical that parents have the ability to make that decision and that schools support masking where that is what families want to do.”
–With files from Global News’ Emily Mertz