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A look at your school under COVID-19

Signs, sanitizers, masks abound

W.D. Cuts vice-principal Matt Tripp is ready for his first day of school later this month.

Except this year, he’ll have three of them – one of the many changes at his school brought on by the pandemic.

“All the changes have been made with the safety of the students in mind,” Tripp said.

Students and parents should expect a much different return to school this fall because of COVID-19. The Gazette did a walkthrough of W.D. Cuts with Tripp and teacher Angus MacDonald to see the changes in action.

From house to the school

St. Albert and Sturgeon County school boards published re-entry plans earlier this month outlining the new COVID-19 safety measures put in place for this school year. Those measures include increased sanitation, student cohorts and restrictions on extracurricular activities.

St. Albert Public has planned a staggered start for its students to give teachers more time to teach them about new safety measures, Tripp said. High schools would have two start-days, with half starting on Aug. 31 and the rest on Sept. 1. Elementary and junior high schools would have three first days, with a third of their students coming back on Aug. 31, Sept. 1, and Sept. 3.

The four districts all require students to start their day with a COVID-19 screening test. If the test finds any symptoms of the disease, the students stay home.

Bus riders would have assigned seats on the way to school. All North Central Francophone students would have to wear masks on the bus, as would Grade 4 to12 students at the other districts.

Parents who bring their kids to school should drop them off and leave, as they will not be allowed in the building without an appointment, Tripp said. Volunteers and guests won’t be let inside at all.

Instead of hugging friends they haven’t seen all summer, Tripp said students would have to head right to their designated door upon arrival. They would get their two free face-masks from the province soon after.

Past the front door

Once inside the school, students would have to follow directional arrows on the walls and floors to ensure proper traffic flow and physical distancing, Tripp noted. They would also have to sanitize their hands upon entering/leaving the school and their classrooms.

Those classrooms would be arranged differently. Whereas MacDonald would usually seat his students in pods, this year he would have to stick with a traditional grid layout to keep students as far apart as possible. In the classroom the Gazette saw, that meant maybe a metre of space between desks.

All four St. Albert school districts have made lockers off-limits this year to avoid crowded hallways, with W.D. Cuts actually bolting its lockers shut. Instead, students will have to hang their coats on their chairs and sling their stuff beneath their seats, Tripp said.

Students in Grades 4 and up would have to wear a face-mask whenever they are within two metres of another student (i.e. basically all the time) as required by the province. Teachers, rather than students, would generally be the ones to change rooms between classes, except in North Central Francophone elementary schools, where students would switch rooms for core classes.

“Option” classes for junior and senior high students won’t really be optional, as students in a cohort would all take the same non-core subject at once, cycling through them throughout the year, Barrett said.

In the halls, students should expect occupancy limits on washrooms and limited seating in common areas. While all four districts encourage students to bring water bottles, St. Albert Public is the only one that has actually closed its water fountains (bottle fill stations are still open).

The four boards differ when it comes to vending machines and microwaves. Sturgeon Public and North Central Francophone have closed them, while St. Albert Public has allowed vending machines in high schools. Greater St. Albert Catholic’s reopening plan did not address these devices.

The boards also differ when it comes to leaving the school grounds. The Sturgeon and North Central Catholic reopening plans do not address the subject, while the St. Albert Catholic one left it up to individual schools. St. Albert Public has required everyone but high school students to stay at school during lunch – no more runs to the convenience store for Slurpees, MacDonald noted.

Any student who shows symptoms of COVID-19 at school would be taken to an isolated room for pickup by their parents, Tripp said. Staffers would clean the student’s classroom, but otherwise continue classes as normal.

“We wouldn’t send the whole class home unless there’s a confirmed case,” Tripp said.

Tripp and MacDonald said they would be very happy to see students back in class this fall.

“I chose the teaching profession because I like being around people and not screens,” MacDonald said.

“It’ll be nice to see people mask-to-mask, I guess,” he added, with a laugh.

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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