by Stephen Dafoe
More than three-quarters of a million Alberta students will return to class this fall. The government announced Tuesday afternoon that “schools will be ready to welcome students under the previously announced scenario 1—near-normal daily operations with health measures.”
Those health measures include frequent cleaning of surfaces, placing hand sanitizers at school entrances and classrooms, grouping students in cohorts, and planning the school day to allow for physical distancing. The latter could include staggering start times for classes, recesses and lunches.
“I’m proud of our comprehensive plan that supports the safe return to daily in-school learning,” said Premier Jason Kenney, adding the return to school is indicative of the province’s continued recovery.
By September, the government may add health measures based on the advice of the chief medical officer of health, consulting with the education system.
Students, staff, parents and school visitors will use a self-screening questionnaire daily to determine whether they can enter the school.
Should students or staff test positive for COVID-19, the UCP says a public health team will investigate to determine when symptoms develop and support the school to minimize transmission. Those in close contact will need to stay home for 14 days, and not the entire school population.
In the event of a COVID-19 outbreak in a community or school, health officials, Alberta Education and the local school authorities will work to decide on a transition to partial in-class learning or at-home learning.
“We are committed to doing everything possible to protect the health and safety of students, staff and families during the upcoming school year,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health. “There is no risk-free approach to COVID-19 but there are also risks to children’s overall health from school closures.”
NDP Leader Rachel Notley was critical of the UCP return-to-school plan. Notley said the number one responsibility must be to protect the health and safety of children and staff in the schools.
Notley believes reopening must be fully funded in terms of health and safety.
“It’s not a question of keeping our schools open—reopening our schools Vs. keeping our schools closed. Rather, the question is this: Do we reopen our schools, or do we reopen them safely,” Notley said.
The NDP leader said Premier Kenney has decided to open the schools with little regard for safety, something she said is dangerous without additional support and caps on class sizes.
The NDP believes the government must immediately act to adopt a class size limit of 15 students.
“Frankly, that is the most important thing we can do to keep kids safe,” Notley said.
The NDP plan to release their own plan later this week for the safe opening of schools.
The government has prepared a re-entry tool kit to prep parents and students for what to expect in the new school year. That kit includes videos on health measures, a parental guide, and frequently asked questions. There is also a self-screening questionnaire and links to health guidelines.