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Students heading back to school, in person, this fall

High schools switch to four-term model
Kenney1
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced Tuesday that in-person classes will resume this fall.

St. Albert kids will be back in the classrooms this fall, and the province’s top doctor says it will be up to all of us to keep them safe during the pandemic.

Premier Jason Kenney and Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced Tuesday that in-person classes for Alberta’s 750,000 K-12 students would resume this fall.

LaGrange had previously said she would make a decision on resuming in-person classes by Aug. 1. She said in a press conference Tuesday that she moved up her decision to give parents and school boards clarity as soon as possible. 

Kenney said the province decided to reopen schools this fall after weighing the risk of more cases against the social, economic and psychological harm caused by keeping schools closed, and considering the latest research on COVID-19.

Kenney said European nations have shown schools can hold in-person classes safely during the pandemic, and that some Alberta schools had held in-person classes this summer without problems. B.C. had just one case of COVID-19 when it reopened its schools in June, and that was in a teacher. Research suggests that children were less likely than adults to get the virus and less likely to be hospitalized because of it – ideas supported by the fact that just 14 per cent of Alberta’s COVID-19 cases had been in people under 19.

“This does not mean there will be no cases in schools,” Kenney emphasized, and does not change the fact children can still transmit the disease to vulnerable populations.

Kenney said he was troubled by Alberta’s recent surge in new COVID-19 cases – 141 new cases and two more deaths were reported as of Tuesday – which may be the result of people slacking off when it comes to provincial health guidelines.

“Let me be blunt. If you think you can socialize with large groups of people in close quarters, knock it off.”

Kenney urged Albertans to stay two metres apart, wear masks, and wash their hands to control the spread of COVID-19.

“Let’s just do our best to show our care for others. That’s the Alberta way.”

New rules for school

St. Albert’s public and Catholic school boards posted mostly identical plans earlier this month of how they would resume in-person classes this fall. The plans mirrored the advice released by the province last month related to schools and the pandemic.

Under the plans, all parents and students shall assess themselves each day for COVID-19 symptoms before coming to school. If they have any, they won’t go to school.

These home assessments would be critical, as all the other safety measures depend on students not coming to school sick, said St. Albert Public superintendent Krimsen Sumners.

“It’s going to be paramount to keeping everyone safe.”

Students shall be grouped in cohorts to limit the spread of the virus, the plans said. Sumners said these would not necessarily be small groups, and could consist of pairs of classes or entire grades. These cohorts would be combined with staggered breaks and arrival times, hand-washing upon entering or leaving classrooms, and other safety measures to reduce the risk of disease transmission.

Neither district is mandating the use of masks, but both are encouraging students to have them in case they are needed. Outgoing Greater St. Albert Catholic superintendent David Keohane said this is because masks would not be practical in some situations – a face-shield or two metres of distance might be better when teaching someone to read, for example.

Sumners said schools would strongly encourage staff and students to wear masks, particularly if they took the bus, as buses would be as full as usual.

Sumners said some schools would limit or ban the use of lockers, instead requiring students to lug all their books between classes. Digital textbooks could lighten their loads, she noted.

High school students should expect to have a four-term instead of a two-term year. They would take two subjects per term (typically one core and one option) and spend up to 155 minutes in each class a day.

The quarterly system lets schools keep students in smaller cohorts for easier contact tracing in the event of an outbreak, said Keohane, who has supervised schools that used this system. It could be challenging to students and teachers, though, as it packs a week’s worth of instruction into each day.

Known unknowns

Keohane and Sumners said some aspects of the reopening still have to be worked out. Schools are waiting on the Alberta Schools’ Athletics Association word on how team sports could work, for example, and haven’t determined how schools would accommodate students who still want to learn at home.

LaGrange encouraged parents to go through the new Return to School kit website (alberta.ca/k-to-12-school-re-entry-2020-21-school-year.aspx) with their kids to prepare them for what school would be like this fall.

Chief medical officer of health Deena Hinshaw said the best way to ensure a safe return to classes this fall is to stop the current surge in COVID-19 cases. She urged parents with kids in school to think carefully about their actions in the next month.

“COVID-19 is not going anywhere. It’s on all of us to adopt public health guidance and protect each other.”


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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