For many Lethbridge students, the start of the new school year is less than two weeks away. Before Wednesday, few details on the local back-to-school plan were known.
Now, the city’s two largest divisions have laid out the details of a return to class, with two different-looking plans.
While the public division has decided to implement its own extra measures, the Catholic division is aiming to mirror provincial protocol.
“We want to ensure that you are all doing well and we want to ensure that the division is doing all that we can to support the needs of our community,” said the Lethbridge School Division’s board chair Christine Light.
Some of the additional measures within LSD’s two dozen schools will include mandatory masking for elementary students, middle school students, and staff in common areas and when entering and exiting the buildings.
“It seemed only natural and students are mandated to wear masks, to wear masks on transportation, flow through into our hallways, and then in the classroom they are free to make choice to wear masks,” Light said.
At the start of the school year, restrictions will remain on indoor large gatherings such as assemblies, and on large outdoor gatherings for elementary and middle school students.
Schools will also work to maintain social distancing where possible, by staggering start times and monitoring traffic flow in common areas.
Some restrictions will also remain on extra-curricular activities outside school hours.
While cohorts will exist “naturally” within elementary schools, the division’s plan said schools may choose to have two cohort groups to a maximum of 50 students combined for some activities
Light explained fewer restrictions fall within high schools.
“One of the driving forces of that was the ability to get vaccinated,” she explained.
“There’s definitely more freedom for high school students to make their decision as to whether or not to mask, and that was decided upon because those students have the ability to choose to get vaccinated or not, and that would be a highly-vaccinated population within our community.”
She added the division took a “balanced approach” when it came to middle schools, as some of the student body would be over the age of 12, while others wouldn’t be.
Supt. Cheryl Gilmore added administration will keep a close eye on changes to the COVID-19 situation and adapt the plan as needed.
“We’ll keep an eye on certainly what’s happening in the city of Lethbridge, what’s happening our region, what’s happening provincially,” Gilmore explained.
The Holy Spirit Catholic School Division has chosen to mirror provincial guidance, saying it was “unable” to mandate masks within schools.
“It’s hard to say that this is what we’re mandating, yet there’s no provincial backing of either the order or the legislation,” Sampson explained.
“However, (we) are highly recommending the use of masks in our schools.”
At the same time, Holy Spirit will not be enforcing social distancing, cohorts, or restricting large group activities.
Visitors to both school divisions will be required to wear masks, and high levels of sanitization will remain in place.
As well, the province has outlined a continued need for isolation measures.
Sampson said the school board’s highest priority was the health and safety of staff and students when it figured out its course of action.
“We are really excited about the opportunity for our students to come back to as normal an environment as possible,” he said.