By Justin Seward
Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange announced last week that students will return school in September.
The provincial education department has laid out a comprehensive re-entry plan for the upcoming school year and at the same time putting students and staff safety first.
The plan offers guidance on issues including hygiene and health requirements, student learning, transportation and diploma exams.
Mental health and physiological supports will be available for students and staff in the plan as well.
School authorities will have three scenarios to consider including: in-school classes resume (near normal operations with health measures, in-school classes partially resuming with additional health measures and thirdly at home learning continues (in-school classes are cancelled).
Every student will start with the first scenario in September.
“The preferred and likely scenario is that students will return to daily in-school classes at the beginning of the year. The government will share its final decision by Aug. 1 on which scenario will be in place at the beginning of the school year. However, school authorities are asked to prepare for implementing any of the three possibilities during the upcoming school year, including on short notice,” the release said.
Clear direction is being given to the parents and schools with this plan.
“We are providing clear direction and the certainty parents and the school system need to plan ahead and get ready for what the new school year may look like. We are hoping, and it is likely, students can return to daily classes at school while taking health precautions, but we have to prepare for all possibilities. I want to thank our education leaders, teachers and parents for their thoughtful contributions to this comprehensive plan,” said LaGrange.
Return to in-school class learning may vary across the province and is dependent on the number of COVID-19 cases in the local area. School boards should develop their own COVID-19 plans under the applicable scenario and health guidelines prior to reopening.
• Enhanced cleaning and disinfecting, including daily cleaning for all areas of the school, washrooms and high-touch surfaces cleaned several times a day or more as needed.
• Regularly scheduled deep cleaning when students are not present.
Student/staff hygiene and illness
• Routine screening for all staff and students.
• Strict stay-at-home policy for any students or staff exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.
• Hand hygiene expectations when entering and exiting the school and classrooms, before and after eating.
• Continual reminders of the importance of respiratory etiquette (e.g., cover coughs and sneezes, avoid touching the face and disposal of used tissues promptly, followed by hand hygiene).
• Students who develop symptoms at school may be asked to wear a mask and isolate in a separate room until a parent arrives for pickup. If a separate room is not available, the student must be kept at least two metres away from other individuals.
Physical distancing and grouping
• When possible, practise some physical distancing as a good precaution to prevent the spread of disease.
• In classrooms, buses and during activities when physical distancing may not be possible, extra emphasis is put on other hygiene practices.
• Reorganization of rooms to allow for more physical space.
• Cohorting of students by class where possible.
• Guiding foot traffic flow through entrances and hallways by using markers on the floor or pylons/barriers.
• Avoiding large gatherings such as assemblies.
• Staff and students will not be mandated to wear masks.
• Masks may be considered in circumstances where there is prolonged close contact (greater than 15 minutes) and distance of two metres cannot be maintained.
• Masking is generally not recommended for younger students.
• A no-sharing policy – all students should have their own supplies.
• Where sharing of equipment is required, the equipment should be cleaned between uses.
Cases of COVID-19 in a school
• The zone medical officer of health will work with school authorities on the rapid identification of cases through easily accessible testing, rapid close contact identification, and isolation measures when needed.
• The zone medical officer of health will also work with school authorities to provide follow-up recommendations and messaging for staff, parents and students.
• Alberta Health Services may request the school to close in-person classes to allow the public health investigation to take place.
• Each school authority will support students and staff to learn or work at home if they are required to self-isolate.
Scenario 2 has the same consideration as the first scenario, but with some differences.
Those differences include a maximum of 15 people in a classroom to allow for more consistent physical distancing.
Students will attend class not as consistently and school authorities will need to adjust their class schedule as a result and organize classrooms to meet physical distancing requirements.
Prairie Rose School Division Superintendent Roger Clarke likes the outcome of this plan.
“The simple answer is we like it, and the fact that kids are going to get back to school in September,” said Clarke.
“So unless there is something significant that happens over the course of summer, we don’t anticipate a change, so we’re going to see kids going back to school, which is good.”
Clarke says PRSD realizes some of the parameters around social distancing they will not be able to follow.
“You always do that to the best of your ability. But when you put kids on a bus, in order to get them all in, they will all come,” said Clarke.
“We will transport them all to school and will be going to all the classrooms. We can social distance inside the school and during the school day we will. But of course we can’t, we can’t.”
If conditions worsen, it would be treated from an outbreak perspective for the scenario to change, he added.
That decision would be made by the province to move to the second scenario.
“Even if conditions changed in Prairie Rose in some way, it doesn’t mean all of Prairie Rose is affected,” said Clarke
“Because we have so many communities, that if something was happening for let’s say in Foremost, it doesn’t necessarily mean we wouldn’t have kids come to school in Oyen.”
“This plan puts the interests of students and staff first. Educators, administrators, families, health professionals and government all need to work together to support a safe return to in-person classes,” said Deena Hinshaw, , chief medical officer of health
“We continue to monitor the situation closely. The reality is, we must weigh the risk of prolonged school closures against the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks in closed settings, such as schools. A safe and successful school year will only be possible if we all work together.”
Non-COVID-19 operational highlights
• Any summer programming will follow scenario 2 of the re-entry plan and the associated public health measures.
• August diploma exams will proceed for students taking diploma courses this summer.
• For the 2020-21 school year, diploma exams will be held if the first or second scenarios are in place. In scenario 3, exams may be cancelled.
• Provincial achievement tests (PATs) for Grades 6 and 9 can be held in the first and second scenarios, but will be optional for school authorities to participate.
• If scenario 3 is in place at the beginning of the school year, the January PATs will be cancelled. May/June PATs may be cancelled based on the duration of at-home learning.
• School authorities can, as deemed appropriate at the local level, reduce time spent teaching non-core subjects to allow for additional instruction time on core subjects.
• School authorities must enable the full participation and inclusion of students with disabilities under each scenario and address any learning gaps from the 2019-20 school year.
• Mental health supports should be in place for students and staff.