Three possible scenarios for K-12 schools come September: Alberta government
EDMONTON -- Alberta Education is planning for three different Septembers depending on how the pandemic develops over the summer.
Minister Adriana LaGrange said Wednesday the department is preparing for schools to be open and operating "as much as possible under normal conditions," for schools to be "generally open but with some health restrictions in place," and for teacher-directed at-home learning to continue.
“Obviously, we would all like to see the first option,” she commented.
“That being said, we do realize that we do not know how the pandemic will continue over the next course of months. We also know that on the larger relaunch plan, K-12 education is on level two, so right now, it’s too early to say which scenario we will be in at that time. The best plan is to, you know, hope for the best and plan for the worst.”
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Although Alberta launched the first phase of its tiered reopening this week, the province has not yet seen an easing of restrictions for gatherings, including in-person classes in K-12 schools.
Even if more guardians return to work as soon as May 14 in the second stage of Alberta’s relaunch, LaGrange said students will finish the remainder of the 2019-20 school year remotely.
“Nothing has changed from (Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s) initial recommendation that we refrain from in-school classes indefinitely, at this point in time," the minister explained.
She added any plan for K-12 schools would have to be approved by Hinshaw, align with the province's economic strategy and honour collective bargaining agreements.
But she confirmed the planning involved discussions of using personal protective equipment in schools, implementing staged attendance to ease physical distancing, and regional guidelines according to local virus spread in the second scenario.
If Alberta schools were to find themselves in the third situation – where at-home learning was to continue – LaGrange promised she was confident teaching staff could deliver.
The update answered too few questions according to the Official Opposition's education critic.
"A bunch of questions were raised that parents and staff have been raising – and they're fair questions. They've been asking for several weeks. But the minister didn't really have any answers," the NDP's Sarah Hoffman said, listing concerns of adequate special needs and mental heal suports, and plans for immunocompromised staff.
"(Parents and staff) want to know what reasonable class sizes are. If it's unsafe to have more than 15 people in a room, is it really fair to say we're going to have classes of 40-some students in a high school social studies class. They don't think it is."
However, the president of the Alberta Teachers Association echoed the minister's "too early" comment.
"I don't think anything was missing from what she said becuase we're in early stages of this conversation still," Jason Schilling responded. "What does reopening look like?"
The plans, once finished, will be shared publicly sometime in the coming weeks, LaGrange said, as will the future of summer programming, which could potentially continue earlier, the premier suggested on Friday.
In the meantime, Alberta Education is answering parent questions and helping them connect with school resources on a government hotline. Families can use it by calling 780-422-6548 or dialling 310-0000 first, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Schools began offering remote learning in March, when Hinshaw issued public health orders limiting gatherings to 15 people and two-metre physical distancing.
Since then, thousands of support staff have been laid off by public and private school divisions. LaGrange called the government decision to redirect education dollars to COVID-19 response "very difficult" but said funding would be restored July 1 and increased in future budgets.