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EDITORIAL: The new normal?

"The strain this school year will place on teachers, parents and students cannot be understated."
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When school starts up less than two weeks from now, the daily routine is set to look a whole lot different from the one we're used to.

Each morning, children will have to answer a list of questions. Do they have a runny nose? A headache? Were they, at some point in the last 14 days, face-to-face with someone who had a runny nose or a headache?

If the answer's yes to those or a host of other potential symptoms and exposures – no in-person learning for them. They'll have to make do with Google Classroom or other digital learning tools.

If they make it to school, they'd better not have forgotten their lunch, since they won't be able to leave and no one will be able to drop one off for them. They'll also have to carry all their things around with them, since locker use will be limited. Several hand-sanitizing sessions later, they'll be in a classroom with potentially dozens of their peers, ready to start learning.

There is, of course, an inherent risk of grouping hundreds of people, including children of all ages, together in a building for hours on end. To date, Alberta's plan to mitigate that risk includes giving students two masks apiece and making Grade 4 to 12 students wear them; and providing hand sanitizer.

Much has been left up to individual school boards to provide sufficient online learning options and give teachers and families the tools they need to make such options successful. While our school boards have been working diligently to make sure students can return as safely as possible, many of the teachers, parents and students the Gazette has spoken with over the past weeks expressed confusion, fear and dismay at the province's lack of an adequate plan to reopen schools.

Alberta's top doctor, chief medical officer of health Deena Hinshaw, has spent the past five months hammering the following point home: in the event you need to be out in public, physical distancing, hand washing and mask wearing are the best defenses against this pandemic. Yet the first point of that trifecta is curiously absent in discussion about schools reopening, and the province has so far been unwilling to bring in measures to limit classroom sizes or otherwise mandate strict distancing measures. Cohorts may mitigate this to some extent, but schools will have to decide for themselves how to appropriately do so.

Safety isn't the only cause for concern, either. Teachers now must juggle in-person classes with whatever online learning options school divisions decide on. The logistics of doing that rival the challenges of handling potential exposures at school.

The strain this school year will place on teachers, parents and students cannot be understated. Everyone, including the province, the school boards, the teachers, the parents and the students, has a role to play to make schools as safe as possible. It’s our best chance.