A central Edmonton elementary school is shifting to online learning due to a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Starting Friday, all Westglen School classes will be temporarily taught remotely, with students expected to return to in-person learning on Oct. 8.
Carrie Rosa, a spokesperson for Edmonton Public Schools, said 29 positive cases of COVID-19 have been self-reported at the school since Sept. 20.
Rosa said Alberta Education approved the board’s request to shift to online learning due to the number of absent staff and students.
Nicole Sparrow, press secretary to Education Minister Adrian LaGrange, told Postmedia in an emailed statement that short-term transitions to online learning for one or more schools, or an entire division, must be approved my LaGrange.
She added when Alberta Education receives a request from a school board to move a school online, the department works closely with them and a decision is usually made within 24 hours.
Sparrow said the following factors are considered before reaching a decision — if there’s an indication of a teaching and/or support staff shortages that is preventing a school from continuing in-class learning, a significant number of students are absent and relevant COVID-19 related information provided by Alberta Health Services or school board.
Sparrow told Postmedia on Tuesday that additional measures such as localized rapid testing in schools could be considered if the need arises. She said school boards can also request test kits from Alberta Health if they’re interested in running their own testing program.
The move comes just days after Edmonton Public School Board chairwoman Trisha Estabrooks penned a letter to LaGrange and former health minister Tyler Shandro “imploring” them to reinstate COVID-19 safety measures such as contact tracing and mandatory quarantine.
The province no longer reports outbreaks in schools as well.
Meanwhile, Alberta continues to see a rise in COVID-19 cases in school-aged children with 566 of the 1,660 new cases identified Thursday infecting those under the age of 20. There were 80 new cases in those aged 1-4, 179 cases for ages 5-9 and 307 cases for ages 10-19.
During the province’s COVID-19 availability on Thursday, Dr. Verna Yiu, president and CEO of AHS, acknowledged they are seeing an increase in cases in children between the ages of 10-19 and that the Delta variant has impacted younger people at higher rates. She added that AHS is supporting schools to provide temporary in-school clinics to make it easier to deliver vaccinations to Grade 7-12 students eligible for the vaccine.
“More than 1,000 eligible students have already been immunized at these school clinics,” said Yiu. “Parents, please complete the immunization consent forms for your children as quickly as possible because this simple step will protect them.”
Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said schools can call their local public health team who will work with them to investigate and implement any necessary measures. She said schools can do this if they identify a cluster of “respiratory illness” in a classroom or another setting they find concerning or if they hit the 10 per cent absentee threshold.
When asked why parents don’t have the right to know if there are COVID cases in their child’s school, Hinshaw pointed to privacy issues.
“Our current framework that does not require mandatory quarantine, does not require close contact tracing means that disclosure of individually identifying health information, as would happen if individual case notifications happened in schools, would be a violation of that individual’s privacy and their rights under the Health Information Act,” she said.