The coming school year will look somewhat normal.
Students will return to learning in classrooms across Alberta at the beginning of the new school year, with health measures in place.
“Following extensive consultations with school boards, superintendents, parents and teachers, Alberta’s K-to-12 education system will reopen for in-class teaching this September and 750,000 students will be able to return to school,” said Premier Jason Kenney on Tuesday.
“Our health and education officials have closely studied the experiences of other provinces and countries and they’ve developed state-of-the-art protocols for minimizing the risk of transmission at schools,” said Kenney, adding these protocols may evolve overtime.
Citing examples of other jurisdictions’ school openings, and studies from around the world, Kenney also shared the long-term negative social and economic impact of keeping schools closed indefinitely.
“This does not mean there will be no (COVID-19) cases in schools. It means, rather, we’ve calculated the risks of reopening against the risks of continued closures, and we’ve made the best decision to serve the public interest.”
Come September, school days will look mostly the same as they used to, with some modifications, said Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, noting there will be no limits on class sizes.
The Alberta government has developed a re-entry tool kit to prepare parents and students for what to expect in the new school year.
The kit includes videos for students explaining some of the health measures, a guide for parents, frequently asked questions, school posters, a self-screening questionnaire in multiple languages, and links to health guidelines.
“We’ve provided the overall guidelines, but those fine details are left to the school division to implement, because they are in the best position to know what their realities are,” said LaGrange, who is the MLA for Red Deer-North.
“For a specific class example, such as in music classes, playing string instruments is preferred over wind instruments, and each school will have its own plan to allow for physical distancing whenever possible,” the education minister said.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the chief medical officer of health, said students and staff may choose to wear a mask and should be supported in their choices to do so.
“We recognize how difficult masking would be for many students, especially at the lower elementary grades, which is why we’re not relying on any single public health measure to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Hinshaw said.
School precautions include frequent cleaning, keeping students in the same groups where possible, planning the school day to allow for physical distancing and staying home when sick.
Citing worldwide studies, both Kenney and Hinshaw said school-aged children typically have mild symptoms of the disease, and young children do not seem to transmit it to others as often as adults do.
The province says if there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in a community or school, health officials will work with Alberta Education and impacted school authorities to make any decision to potentially transition to partial in-class learning or at-home learning.
Parents who don’t wish to send their children to school won’t have to, Kenney and LaGrange said. The education minister, however, encouraged parents to look at the health guidelines because “the plan will work.”
“We’re able to somewhat trial test it this summer, when school authorities ran in-person summer school programming. School authorities such as Chinook’s Edge, Calgary Catholic, Medicine Hat Public and Progressive Acedemy have all run in-person programming under the guidelines,” she said.
School authorities have returned to full funding levels as of July 1, and every school authority in Alberta is receiving a funding increase for the 2020-21 school year – roughly $120 million across the province.
In addition, LaGrange has approved the use of school board reserves, if needed, to help cover local COVID-19-related costs. The total amount of money sitting in school board reserves is $363 million, she said.