Starting Friday, all students at Westglen School in northwest Edmonton will shift to online learning after dozens of cases of COVID-19 were identified.
In a letter sent to families Thursday, the school’s principal said 31 cases of COVID-19 have been reported to the school. In a statement, the Edmonton Public School Board said 29 people at the school have self-reported cases since Monday.
As a result, all students will begin learning from home on Friday and remain learning online until Oct. 8, when students can return to their classrooms.
“I want to reassure you our school has been doing everything we can to keep our students and staff at the school safe by following the Division’s 2021-22 Back to School Plan and the protocols regarding mask use, physical distancing, hand hygiene and cleaning in our school,” Westglen principal Cory MacTaggart wrote in the letter obtained by Global News.
“I know that transitioning from in-person to online learning is a quick change for you and your children. We believe this is the right decision in order to keep everyone as safe as possible.”
Westglen School is located in the city’s Westmount neighbourhood.
The EPSB said the transition to online learning was approved by Alberta Education.
The school did not say how many cases were in students versus staff and teachers.
School-aged children between five and 11 have the highest rates of COVID-19 in the province.
Speaking to Global News on Wednesday, Edmonton pediatrician Dr. Raphael Sharon said he’s seen a spike in cases in the first three weeks of September.
“So far in September, I’ve seen 33 positive cases in first three weeks. Whereas, my worst month previously was 23 for the entire month,” Sharon said.
“The fears some of the parents are expressing to me have to do with having a potential positive case in the class, but not knowing about it.”
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health spoke briefly about school outbreaks during her COVID-19 update Thursday.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw said while the current school framework does not require mandatory quarantine or close contract tracing in schools, the department of health is working with the education department to determine whether any changes to the framework are needed.
“Schools are a location that we have looked at, again, the evidence from other jurisdictions, our own evidence from our previous pandemic experience, what other provinces have reported. And what we see is that large-scale transmission in schools is not common, that schools are impacted by community transmission but are not locations that drive community transmission outwards,” Hinshaw said.
Earlier this week, the EPSB wrote to the ministers of health and education asking the province to reinstate contact tracing and COVID-19 close contact quarantine measures.
The Opposition NDP also called on the province to reinstate contract tracing within schools.
“Tracing in schools has been done in previous waves and the UCP government needs to do whatever it takes to reimplement it now,” NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman said in a statement.
“Only yesterday, British Columbia returned to a policy of tracing cases in schools. Alberta must follow suit and undertake every possible effort to stop the spread of this preventable disease in children.”
The chief medical officer of health acknowledged there is keen interest in school outbreaks and said she was working closely with ministry of education to finalize a “reporting framework.” Global News asked about the framework on Sept. 9, but Alberta Health provided no additional details about it.
Hinshaw said she did not have the numbers in front of her in regards to how many schools are under outbreak status.
She said schools that see an increased number of kids, teachers or staff who are ill because of respiratory illness — COVID or any other — can work with Alberta Health Services.
“In some ways that is adding an additional layer of protection, because if individuals choose to not get tested for COVID but are home with an illness, they’re now counted in the list as being part of that outbreak. And so it’s less dependent on needing a test to be a part of identifying where there is an issue.”
Hinshaw later clarified anyone staying home with a respiratory illness is not automatically counted as a COVID-19 case, and that the COVID-19 case count only includes those who have been confirmed positive through testing.
Hinshaw strongly encouraged anyone who works in a school or is eligible to be vaccinated to get immunized.
In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Alberta Education said five schools have been approved to move to at-home learning.
“Approval from the minister of Education is required for a short-term shift of one or more schools, or an entire school authority, to at-home learning for operational reasons. When Alberta Education receives a request from a school authority, department officials work closely with the school authority and a decision is typically communicated within 24 hours,” Nicole Sparrow explained.
When considering the request, Alberta Education considers factors like teaching/staffing shortages, how many students are absent, any relevant COVID-19 information shared by AHS or the school authority, substantial cases in the community.
“The decision to move a portion of a school, such as individual grade(s) or class(es) to at-home learning due to operational reasons, will continue to be at the discretion of the local school authority,” Sparrow added.
“The safety of students, parents, teachers and staff remains our top priority. We will continue to follow the expert advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health and will make changes as necessary to ensure a safe and successful school year.”
With files from Morgan Black, Global News.View link »