Calgary Herald

High schools back to classes online

Large numbers of isolating staff, students cited as virus cases spike

- SAMMY HUDES

Students in grades 7 to 12 at Calgary public and Catholic schools will temporaril­y shift to at-home learning for at least two weeks, the province announced Wednesday, as it reported more than 1,400 new COVID-19 cases across Alberta.

Alberta Education said it approved requests from both the Calgary Board of Education and the Calgary Catholic School District to shift to virtual classrooms starting Monday, due to a chronic substitute teacher shortage and a “significan­t number of students and staff” in quarantine or isolation.

It also cited recent requests for short-term shifts for a number of schools and “substantia­l COVID-19 cases in the community.”

“While the preference is to learn in school, we recognize some school boards are dealing with pressures due to rising COVID 19 cases in their community,” said Education Minister Adriana Lagrange.

“Every situation is unique . . . and COVID is not affecting schools in the same way across the province.”

Seventy-seven schools in Calgary were listed in “outbreak status,” with five or more cases of COVID-19, as of Wednesday, according to data on Alberta Health's website.

The province reported 1,412 more cases from 15,738 tests on Wednesday, for a nine per cent positivity rate. Of those, 778 were variant strains of the deadly virus.

Alberta had 8,197 active variant cases of COVID-19, representi­ng about 52.6 per cent of its 15,569 total active COVID-19 cases.

Eight more coronaviru­s-related deaths were also reported Wednesday, bringing Alberta's pandemic fatality toll to 2,029 since March 2020.

Around 46 per cent of all active cases in the province were in AHS' Calgary zone.

There were 420 Albertans infected by COVID-19 in hospital on Wednesday, including 92 patients receiving treatment in intensive-care units.

Meanwhile, Alberta on Tuesday passed the milestone of one million COVID-19 vaccine doses delivered. A total of 1,004,123 doses have been administer­ed in the province through AHS and community pharmacies, with nearly 18.1 per cent of Albertans now having some level of protection.

A total of 194,012 Albertans have been fully immunized with two doses of vaccine.

But chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Alberta is seeing “a sharp rise in cases among school-aged Albertans.”

“While this is an operationa­l decision, I support it and ask that parents and students continue making safe choices to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” Hinshaw said in a statement. “Social activities outside of school can easily spread the virus, so please continue following all the health measures in place.”

To date, Alberta Health said it has not required any school closures for health reasons.

School boards can continue to request an entire school move temporaril­y to at-home learning due to operationa­l reasons. Decisions to move a portion of a school, such as one grade, are at the discretion of the school board.

“We appreciate that the government has responded to our concerns. The greatest impacts of COVID -19 cases have been in the grade 7 to 12 schools,” said Marilyn Dennis, chair of the Calgary Board of Education. “Moving these students online will help to ensure learning continuity, address operationa­l concerns, and support the health and well-being of CBE students, staff and the Calgary community.”

In a notice to parents, the CBE said in-person classes are scheduled to resume May 3, “but this could be extended.”

“Learning expectatio­ns will be the same as they were when these students moved online before and after the winter break,” it stated. “There will be no change for kindergart­en to Grade 6 students. These students will continue to attend classes in-person at their schools.”

Families of students in specialize­d classes or who require specialize­d supports will be contacted by their school principal to determine if their classes will be moved online, or if they will continue in person.

Mary Martin, board chair of the Calgary Catholic School District, said that while in-person learning is always preferred, “the safety of our staff and students must always be a priority, and moving temporaril­y to an online format for our grades 7 to 12 students will support their health.

“Recognizin­g that, along with the expansion of the rapid testing program, the ability to move to an online format are good strategies to support our schools,” she said.

NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman said the decision to send home high school and junior high students would cause “stress and frustratio­n for families.”

“I respect the decisions by these boards to take action to keep their students, staff and families safe,” Hoffman said.

“(Premier Jason Kenney) has failed to give Alberta schools the resources they need to keep classrooms safe. The reasons the UCP gave for moving these students are exactly the factors we warned them about.”

Those frustratio­ns were echoed by parents and advocates for students.

“Closing schools yet again is a result of poor crisis management by this government and underfundi­ng schools,” said Medeana Moussa, executive director of Support Our Students. “Students are paying the price for the government's lack of planning.”

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