Edmonton school boards release back-to-school plans for 2021

Click to play video: 'Edmonton public and Catholic school divisions release return-to-school plans'
Edmonton public and Catholic school divisions release return-to-school plans
With cases of COVID-19 still spreading in the community, both Edmonton Catholic and public school divisions will keep many of the same pandemic protocols in place as last year, while resuming activities like sports and graduations. Tom Vernon has the details – Aug 16, 2021

The Edmonton Public School Board and Edmonton Catholic Schools have released their back-to-school plans for the upcoming year.

The local school board guidance comes on the heels of the release of the province’s back-to-school plan, which was outlined on Friday.

The province said students and staff should continue daily screening for COVID-19 symptoms using the Alberta Health Daily Checklist and must isolate for 10 days if they test positive for the disease or have any “core” COVID-19 symptoms, including fever, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, loss of sense of smell or taste, sore throat (adults only) and runny nose (adults only).

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Isolation is required for 10 days from the onset of the symptoms, or until a negative COVID-19 test result is received.

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There will be no requirement for Alberta Health Services or schools to alert others of positive cases.

The province’s plan also outlines that masks will not be mandatory in Alberta schools this fall. However, masking will be required on school buses.

School boards have been given the ability to implement additional safety requirements if they choose.

Edmonton Public Schools

Students attending Edmonton Public schools will be required to wear masks in class. The board’s plan also includes enhanced cleaning, as well as social distancing and student cohorts where possible.

The EPSB held an emergency meeting Friday after which it announced it will make masks mandatory for all students in kindergarten up to Grade 12.

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“I know that not everyone agrees on things like masking and all the rest of it, but we created our plans with student safety as our top priority,” Edmonton Public Schools Supt. Darrel Robertson said Monday.

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“We’re trying to be reasonable in our approach and make sure we are doing everything we can to keep our staff and students as safe as possible.”

Board chair Trisha Estabrooks said she believes the re-entry plan is solid, adding she appreciates school boards have been given the autonomy from the province to do what they think is best to keep students and staff safe.

Several safety measures will be taken, including:

  • requiring the use of masks for all students and staff
  • daily health screening for students and staff before coming to school
  • a stay-at-home protocol for those who are sick
  • enhanced cleaning and disinfecting in schools and on yellow buses
  • encouraging physical distancing where possible
  • creating cohorts of students where possible
  • hand hygiene requirements for students and staff
  • requiring staff or students to isolate if they have core COVID-19 symptoms or test positive for COVID-19
  • partnering with Alberta Health to host vaccination clinics in schools

About 106,000 students will head back to school within the public division next month. Students and their families still have the choice to return to class in-person or stay at home and attend online for the first half of the 2021-22 school year. That decision must be made by 4 p.m. this Thursday.

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Robertson said last year, anywhere between 28,000 and 33,000 children were learning online at any given time. So far, he said about 60 per cent of families have made their learning choice for the first half of the upcoming school year, with about five per cent of those people choosing online learning.

“To be fair, the plans were just released this morning and parents have the ability to toggle back if they read the plan and they see something that changes their preference,” he said.

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Alberta Teachers Association worried COVID-19 back to school plan could create ‘divisiveness’

Robertson said families will be given another chance to choose their learning preference after the first semester.

“We would like to actually transition all students back to face-to-face learning in semester two, but we’re going to see how this fourth wave goes and how the pandemic progresses in the coming months.”

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Robertson said the plan will be reassessed throughout the school year. Additional things being reintroduced this school year include locker use, off-site field trips and school volunteers.

The full plan can be read on the EPSB’s website.

Edmonton Catholic Schools

Unlike the public system, students within Edmonton Catholic Schools will not be mandated to wear masks at all times.

Masks will be strongly recommended for students enrolled in 100 Voices and those in kindergarten to Grade 3, according to the plan released Monday.

Students in grades 4 to 12 will be required to wear masks in all common areas. During class time for these students, the face coverings will not be mandatory, just strongly recommended.

“We feel that the mandatory masking in terms of common areas and spaces is still important,” Dept. Supt. Timothy Cusack said. “Within the classroom context, students are reasonably cohorted and certainly when they’re sitting at their desk tending to work, they certainly can take off that mask.

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“(It’s a) somewhat easing of that restriction but we feel it is important to maintain an element of masking moving forward.”

Staff and visitors to all schools must wear masks in all common areas. Masks are strongly recommended, but not mandatory, for staff while in the classroom.

Volunteers will not be allowed to work directly with students at this time, the school board said.

All students and staff within the Catholic division will be required to complete the Alberta Health Daily Checklist to determine whether they can attend school or stay home.

The school board will also continue with enhanced cleaning measures implemented last year. Sanitizers will be available throughout schools and good hand-washing will continue to be encouraged.

A number of activities will resume this school year, including:

  • local and provincial field trips
  • athletics and extracurricular activities
  • fine arts and options classes
  • assemblies and special events
  • provincial exams
  • graduation and school farewell activities
  • school council meetings

Families with students in Edmonton Catholic Schools have until this Thursday to decide between in-person or at-home online learning. Students who choose online learning for September will have a chance to change their learning option for the second semester, which begins in February.

So far, the division said about 1,155 students — 2.5 per cent of the total population — have registered for online learning this September. The bulk of those students — about 905 — are in elementary school, Cusack said.

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Last year, Cusack said about 10,500 students — 23 per cent of the total population — chose online learning.

The Catholic school board has set Sept. 27 as the date to review its current plan, which can be read in full on the board’s website.

Both school boards and the province are strongly encouraging all eligible Albertans, including students, staff, parents and guardians to get vaccinated before the school year begins.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Friday that the province will make vaccines available to students in grades 7 to 12, and staff, through temporary school clinics starting Sept. 7.

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