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Calgary Catholic schools to restrict large school gatherings if absent rates climb

School desks sit empty in this file photo. File / Global News

With less than three weeks until Christmas, Calgary Catholic School District has a new plan to help keep schools safe for children until then.

Dubbed the ‘Make it to Christmas’ plan, CCSD’s latest measures target large in-school gatherings that could lead to increased transmission of airborne viruses like COVID-19, RSV or influenza.

“If we keep doing what we’ve always done, we’re always going to get what we’ve always gotten. And so something has to change if we’re going to help our young children and the health care system,” Bryan Szumlas, CCSD chief superintendent, said.

“We have a social responsibility through our faith to create Catholic communities of caring and to protect the most vulnerable — our children,” a letter sent to parents Monday said.

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Szumlas said CCSD officials looked at all of the provincial guidance to come up with the latest strategy.

If a school has more than 10 per cent of its students away due to illness or if AHS declares an outbreak in a school, large group gatherings like Christmas concerts would be postponed, recorded or moved to a virtual presentation.

Schools in the seven to nine per cent absentee rate would have principals re-evaluate large gatherings.

“In cases like this, the principal will determine what is best for their school community,” the school district said.

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CCSD included a link to an online dashboard showing which schools had a student absence rate greater than 10 per cent in the last three weeks.

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The school district also continues to recommend the use of masks, including at Christmas concerts and athletic events for schools below the 10 per cent threshold.

“We as Catholics, we look forward to the joy of the Advent season and to experience the singing and joy with our students,” the CCSD chief superintendent said. “If our families are showing up for an Advent concert at one of our schools, we will have masks present and we will be encouraging our families to wear a mask.”

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That recommendation follows the acting Chief Medical Officer of Health’s Nov. 23 letter saying a “well-fitting, high-quality mask is encouraged, especially in crowded indoor settings.

“Wearing a mask can help reduce your risk of becoming sick and help protect others from being exposed. Individuals should be supported regardless of their choice to mask or not,” Dr. Chris Joffe wrote.

CCSD reiterated its adherence to the ministry of health’s recommendations that students and staff stay home when sick.

And it said it follows ASHRAE’s core recommendations for reducing airborne infectious aerosol exposure, including the use of MERV-13 or better air filters and airflow rates for ventilation “as specified by applicable codes and standards.”

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Alberta schools not allowed to shut down in-school learning, can’t mandate masks despite illnesses

Calgary Board of Education said it has the same air filtration in place and shared the same letter from the CMOH with parents. But no additional measures were announced by the public school board on Nov. 25.

CBE lists the absence rate for every school on its website.

CBE told Global News that school principles could make changes to gatherings, meetings or extracurricular activities based on that school’s context.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Education Minister Adriana LaGrange recognized school boards have the authority for operational decisions around extracurricular activities.

“However, we hope that the limiting of large in-person extracurricular events remains a last resort for all school authorities,” Emily Peckham said in an email to Global News.

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