School boards wait for Alberta's COVID-19 guidance as families face decision over in-class or online learning

Article content

As families across Alberta grapple with a host of unknowns, parents in Edmonton’s two largest school districts will need to choose between online or in-class learning by Monday.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

The provincial government has yet to update specific back-to-school COVID-19 safety guidelines as about 1,000 students at three Edmonton Catholic Schools operating year-round head back to class Wednesday. The guidance document is expected in mid-August, about two weeks before regular in-class learning starts in September.

For now, Edmonton Catholic said it’s reverting to Alberta Health’s July COVID-19 guidelines, including mandatory masking for students and staff, extra cleaning, and daily self-screening for symptoms. Spokeswoman Christine Meadows said in a Tuesday release once they get more information from the province they will update plans for the fall.

Edmonton Public Schools is also waiting for details from the province as it works on its back-to-school plan. In both districts, families will need to choose by Aug. 16 between in-person or online learning.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

Brandi Rai, president of the Alberta School Councils’ Association, said she’s heard from parents across the province concerned about the lack of specific COVID-19 measures weeks before the start of the school year.

“Parents are caught between a rock and a hard place when they don’t have to be,” said Rai.

As families weigh the risks, Alberta’s COVID-19 approach, including ending testing, tracing, and isolation requirements continues to draw fire from medical professionals and daily protests at the Alberta legislature. The Alberta Teachers’ Association has expressed concerns about the plan, saying teachers and administrators are not going to know when there are active cases in schools.

Rai said a lack of information is adding anxiety for some families.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

“The fact that we have no transparency around why these decisions are being made, and what next steps we can do to help protect our children who are unvaccinated in school – that is why Albertans and the families I’m talking to are so angry right now,” said Rai.

Rai said her family is waiting to see what Edmonton Public’s plan for things like masking and ventilation will be before making a decision about how their five children – two of whom are too young to be vaccinated – will be learning in the fall. She added her family’s situation is not unique.

“We can’t plan as families what our next few weeks are going to look like … there’s this real feeling of almost hopelessness that I listen to when I talk to families,” she said.

Megan Normandeau, spokeswoman for Edmonton Public, said in an email Tuesday they hope to receive provincial guidance prior to the district’s deadline to choose online or in person, which has already been extended once. “If we do not receive the guidelines, we’ll share next steps with parents,” she said.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

Nicole Sparrow, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange’s press secretary, noted in a statement Tuesday that school divisions received an outline of COVID-19 contingency scenarios in June, but the guidance document is being finalized and will be released in mid-August.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw has said repeatedly children who catch COVID-19 do not have as severe outcomes as adults. Some Edmonton parents who spoke with Postmedia Tuesday said online learning presented too many challenges, and they have faith in administrators to make in-class learning as safe as possible.

However, on Tuesday, a group of 24 advocates including doctors, experts in infectious diseases, engineering and education, and union leaders penned a letter posted to Twitter, imploring the federal government to go around the province and provide $80 million to Alberta schools for ventilation, air quality monitoring and masks.

The call came after Alberta pediatricians expressed concern Monday the province’s COVID-19 plan would put children and vulnerable families at risk.

lijohnson@postmedia.com

twitter.com/reportrix

Advertisement

Story continues below

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

Latest articles

Related articles