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‘We are a little bit left in the dark’: Edmonton school boards navigate pandemic protocols

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COVID-19 protocols are once again being put to the test in the Edmonton public and Catholic school divisions, but this year is different with far more students returning to in-person learning. As Lisa MacGregor reports, it's touch and go for some schools trying to navigate the various protocols. – Aug 30, 2021

COVID-19 protocols are once again being put to the test in the Edmonton public and Catholic school divisions.

But this year is different, with far more students returning to in-person learning. More than 100,000 feel safe to do so.

Read more: Masks will be mandatory in all indoor spaces in Edmonton this Friday

Mandatory masks are the main protocol. Edmonton Public Schools put that in place first, and on Monday, the Catholic school board followed suit, switching to requiring masks in the classroom and school.

“There’s been a significant upward trend of COVID-19 cases among school-aged children,” Sandra Palazzo, trustee for Edmonton Catholic Schools, said.

Under the Catholic School Boards original, August 16 plan, masks were mandatory from Grade 4 to 12 in common areas but students could take them off in the classroom. As of Monday, masks need to stay on and they’re required from K-12.

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Read more: Parents share concerns about kids returning to school amid COVID-19 4th wave

The choice to mask up in school didn’t come without pushback from some parents.

“There are some families that are not supportive of it, especially because it’s not required within the province,” Palazzo said.

“There are some people who feel that masks shouldn’t be in our schools, and to that, I say… with 1,000 new cases of COVID every day, this is the prudent cautious measure,” Trisha Estabrooks, Edmonton Public Schools board chair, said.

Read more: Edmonton school boards release back-to-school plans for 2021

Other school safety measures in place at Edmonton Public Schools include washing hands and sanitizing, staying in your cohort all day and staying home when you’re sick.

But the province is skipping contact tracing in class since it is no longer doing it or notifying schools of positive cases. Doing so falls to school boards, which will have to rely on the honour system.

“The big difference is we do not have the ability to contact trace. That is the role of our health officials, and we know as school divisions, that we will not be informed unless there’s a positive case in our school unless parents inform us.”

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Read more: As Alberta schools wait for provincial COVID-19 guidance, some keep previous measures in place

But at this stage of the pandemic, some don’t feel adequately supported or informed.

“I, like most Albertans, are wondering where is our minister of health and where is our premier?” Estabrooks said.

“I feel like we are a little bit left in the dark than we were last year,” Theresa Purificati, principal of Aleda Patterson School, said.

“I think it was a really big challenge to contact trace, but it was also really important to keep our community safe, and so we are willing and ready to step up should we need to do that.”

Top of mind for parents and school boards is the more than 50,000 kids returning to in-person class in elementary school, considering ages 12 and under are not able to get vaccinated.

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