Most Calgary students are headed back to class on Wednesday amid a rising number of COVID-19 cases across the province.
Both the city’s major school boards, the Calgary Board of Education and Calgary Catholic School District, sent final reminders to parents on Monday evening with further details on health measures this year.
Students and staff as well as visitors at CCSD schools will be required to wear masks for the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year.
According to a memo sent to parents, the decision is in response to surging COVID-19 cases reported recently across Alberta and within the city of Calgary, which reached 3,176 active cases on Tuesday.
“I know not everyone is pleased we’re going in this direction with mandatory masking,” CCSD chief superintendent Bryan Szumlas said while appearing on Global News Morning.
“But we know from our experience last year that we were able to minimize the transmission of COVID-19 in our schools and part of that was due to mandatory mask wearing.”
CCSD is providing options for students who have a medical exemption or whose parents refuse to have them wear a mask. That includes requesting a temporary workspace in the school as well as temporary remote learning.
The CCSD memo to parents also recommended registering for online learning.
The Government of Alberta’s return to school plan no longer required schools to notify close contacts of a positive COVID-19 case. However, CCSD said it would continue that process.
Szumlas said a letter would be sent out to parents and staff if the school is notified by a parent that their child tested positive for COVID-19.
“If the principal is told by a parent that their child is a positive for COVID-19, we think it’s the right thing to do to send a letter home to that class, and let the teacher know that there is a positive case in that classroom,” Szumlas said. “Of course, we’re going to do everything to protect that child’s privacy.”
Szumlas added that the CCSD health measures would be revisited dependent on the trend of COVID-19 cases in Alberta.
CCSD begins a staggered re-entry for students on Wednesday.
Masks will also be mandatory indoors at Calgary Board of Education schools, with students expected to wear masks while sitting at their desk in classrooms.
According to the CBE website, the decision was based on several factors, including the number of students who are ineligible for vaccinations as well as the vaccination rate amongst students eligible for immunization against COVID-19.
There are exemptions for students if they are physically, psychologically, or developmentally unable to wear a mask, the CBE protocol said.
However, CBE will be following Alberta Health’s directive and will not inform parents or staff of a positive COVID-19 case in schools,
“Schools will continue to monitor their school populations for positive cases, either through self-reporting from staff or families, and/or absenteeism due to illness,” a CBE memo to parents said. “If absenteeism rises significantly, AHS may declare an outbreak and recommend additional health measures.”
The Calgary Board of Education did not respond to Global News’ request for comment for this story.
Dr. Jia Hu, a public health physician and the former medical officer of health for the Calgary region, helped develop the CCSD health measures for the upcoming school year.
According to Dr. Hu, the measures in place are logical given the current trend of cases in the province.
“What these school boards are doing, I think, is quite reasonable in terms of striking that balance between protecting kids’ safety while also protecting kids’ mental health and learning, which is also very important,” Dr. Hu told Global News.
Meanwhile, parents like Crystal Reynolds are hoping for a smooth school year without the back and forth of in-class and remote learning like last year.
Reynolds has two daughters going back to school Wednesday, one in grade 10 and another in grade 12, both are fully immunized with two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“It’s a crapshoot,” Reynolds said. “I feel happy on one hand that my kids are kind of getting back and engaged, but anxious on the other hand. Kind of crossing my fingers that we get lucky.”
Alberta reported 920 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, from around 7,487 tests.
There are now 11,660 active cases of COVID-19 in Alberta.