Canada/ 21 July 2020/ Source/ https://news.ebene-magazine.com/
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange suggests a September reopening of schools is a strong possibility.
Supplied / Government of Alberta
With weeks to go before the school year starts, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange has told the province’s teachers’ association that she’s leaning towards allowing schools to reopen for K to 12 classes at near-normal operations.
In a July 14 letter to Alberta’s Teachers’ Association president Jason Schilling, LaGrange says based on the information her ministry has, she expects classes to resume in-person in September with some health measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 — the first of three scenarios being considered.
“I understand that the return to in-class learning is not without risk of infection transmission. In addition to seeking input from school authorities and education partners, the re-entry plan was reviewed and approved by Alberta Health, including the Chief Medical Officer of Health,” writes LaGrange.
Meanwhile, the ATA says there are still questions that need to be answered about how the schools will be allowed to open safely and whether they will have enough money to implement required changes.
LaGrange’s letter says “school authorities have the flexibility within their budget to cover, as needed, the cost of hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies and non-medical masks,” but Schilling said Monday he’s skeptical of that claim.
“I have difficulty reconciling that comment with what I’m hearing from school boards and the fact that school boards have been laying off teachers and support staff and increasing class sizes because the budget that they received in March, just prior to the pandemic closing things down, had shortfalls in it and we had shortfalls in the budget that came out last year,” he said.
Schilling said there are concerns about being able to maintain the required distance between students, particularly in the younger grades as well as worries about who will be doing the additional cleaning that will be required, since some schools don’t have custodial staff in the building the entire day.
“You can’t put that on teachers, have one more thing for them to do in the course of the day,” he said.
There are also concerns about how larger classes — with 30 or more students — will be able to allow for enough space between students.
Earlier this summer, LaGrange told Albertans that her ministry was working on three scenarios for schools to reopen: one where classes return to near normal, one where schools are partially opened and one where students remain learning remotely from home.
LaGrange has said the government would pick a route by Aug. 1. In the legislative assembly Monday, Premier Jason Kenney told MLAs more information would be coming Tuesday.
Both Edmonton public and Catholic school districts say they have plans for all three scenarios and are waiting for the government to make a decision.
The districts decided to move their summer school classes online this year. Edmonton Public Schools spokesperson Anna Batchelor said there are 4,906 students currently enrolled in summer school, compared to 8,500 last year.
Colin Aitchison, LaGrange’s press secretary, pointed to Calgary Catholic School District, where some summer school classes are being held in person, as a sign the government’s guidelines around COVID-19 are working.
The district is offering the majority of its classes online but approximately 350 students in their final year before high school graduation are taking classes in person at two schools, superintendent of instructional services Andrea Holowka said Monday.
The classes have a maximum of 14 students, who are all required to use hand sanitizer before entering the building and before entering the classroom, she said. Starts are staggered and groups use different doors to maintain distance. Students are required to wear masks — most of which are brought from home — whenever they are in close proximity, such as during group work.
Students and staff take the COVID-19 screening test every day and anyone who develops symptoms stays home and is transferred to an online class, she said.
Holowka said both the students and teachers are happy to be back, though she acknowledges there will be additional challenges once larger numbers of students are back in class.
During the regular school year, class sizes can be in the high 20s or into the 30s, she said, adding that older students who choose to be in summer school are more compliant than younger students.
“And we have to remember, too, summer school doesn’t have a lunch hour, doesn’t have class changes, it doesn’t use lockers,” she said.
“I think it was a really good opportunity for us to see that it is possible to, even sort of in the easiest circumstances, to have in-person learning in a successful way and really meet that need for students.”
While the district didn’t get any additional funding from the government to cover the changes to summer school, Holowka said they won’t know about the cost of a full re-opening until the government releases its plan.