Kenney announces students will return to classrooms, says he's 'very concerned' about COVID-19 spike
EDMONTON -- Alberta K-12 students are returning to classrooms in September, Premier Jason Kenney announced Tuesday.
Kenney said the province's 750,000 students will return to school under Scenario 1 of in-class learning, meaning near-normal operations with some health precautions.
Under this scenario, there will be hand sanitizers in all classrooms and entrances, schools will be cleaned frequently and students will be placed in cohorts, the province said. Schools may also plan the day to allow for physical distance, including staggering start times, recesses and lunches.
"We are determined to do everything that we can to safely return our students, teachers and staff to school," Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said.
The premier cited examples of summer schools in Calgary where there were no infections among students and staff. He also mentioned a number of European countries including Denmark and Netherlands where schools have reopened and cases have remained stable.
"The evidence is overwhelming that schools can be operated safely with little health risk for children and teachers and low risk to causing serious outbreaks with communities that surround them," Kenney said.
"This does not mean that there won't be cases in schools. It means, rather, that we have calculated the relative risks of reopening against the risks of continued closures and we made the best decision to serve the public interest."
WHAT HAPPENS IF A STUDENT TESTS POSITIVE?
If a student or staff member tests positive for the coronavirus, parents will be notified, health officials will investigate when symptoms started and contact those who came into close contact with the case, LaGrange said.
In the case of a larger outbreak in a community, Alberta Education could decide to switch to partial in-class or online learning, depending on the number of cases in each community or school and risk of ongoing transmission.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, supports the government's decision to return to in-class learning.
She says extended school closures negatively impact the health of students, and that school-aged children typically have mild infections of COVID-19 and don't seem to spread it as easily as adults.
However, she said there is no risk-free approach to living with the virus. "We will almost certainly identify cases of COVID-19 in students and staff in the fall."
Students and staff are asked to stay home if they feel sick, monitor their symptoms and are encouraged to wear a mask.
If a student feels sick during school they will be separated from the group and picked up immediately.
"Everyone in the school community will have to do their part and follow public health guidance to keep each other safe," Hinshaw said.
"This is the best way to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of students, staff, families and communities."
ALBERTA SCHOOL BOARDS AND TEACHERS REACT
Alberta's decision to send students back to school in September is receiving mixed responses from school boards and teachers associations.
The Alberta School Boards Association said it is pleased the government made this decision well in advance of the school year to give boards time to prepare.
Edmonton Catholic Schools shared a similar sentiment and added it would continue to work with the province to make classrooms as safe as possible for students and teachers.
On the other hand, the Alberta Teachers Association remains concerned about returning to in-class learning amid the pandemic.
“Teachers are looking forward to doing the work they love to do with their students, but we remain concerned by the failure of the government to adequately address their concerns," ATA president Jason Schilling said. "Successful school reopening is critical to the well-being of students, teachers, staff, their families and the economy, and it requires the confidence of everyone impacted."
ALBERTA COVID-19 CASES STILL SPIKING
On Tuesday, Alberta also reported 141 new cases of COVID-19, increasing active infections to 1,193.
There are now 93 patients in hospital, including 16 in ICUs across the province.
Two more Albertans have died as a result of the coronavirus, bringing the total number of deaths to 172.
"The results are troubling and so today I plead with Albertans not to give up the progress that we’ve made…COVID-19 is not over and it likely won't be over for months to come," Kenney said.
"Let me be blunt: You think you can socialize with large groups of people in close quarters? Knock it off."
Hinshaw said: "I am concerned by the continued rise in active cases. Our health system is watching the situation closely."
After being asked why the decision was made this early amid a spike in cases of the coronavirus, LaGrange said it was to provide clarity and allow for planning.
"The reason why we're announcing right now is that we've heard from parents and from the system that they want clarity as soon as possible as to what scenario we will be in and this will allow parents to make plans for the upcoming school year, as well as the system as a whole to continue the plans that we're making to safely re-enter."
Calgary and Edmonton continue to see an increase in cases of the coronavirus with 482 and 202, respectively.
Alberta has had a total of 9,728 cases of COVID-19 to date.