After months of COVID disruptions, `normal' return to school in view
Students in grades K to 12 will return to school in pre-pandemic fashion without COVID -19 restrictions, the province said Wednesday.
In its 2021-22 school year plan, Alberta Education officials said because of the apparent winding down of the COVID -19 threat, the proliferation of vaccines and the July 1 dropping of public health restrictions, they expect a “normal” return to class in September.
“This plan is focused on a normal return to school, with inclass learning for the majority of students, in fall 2021,” states the report released Wednesday.
“The 2021–2022 School Year Plan is based upon Stage 3 reopening of Alberta's Open for Summer Plan that sees the lifting of all COVID-19 related restrictions, including lifting the ban on indoor social gatherings.”
It said the plan will move away from mandatory health measures to recommended best health practices that will be communicated to school boards.
Requirements of wearing masks and sticking to strict cohorts will be eliminated, said the report.
But measures such as isolation could still be used in the case of classroom outbreaks, it states.
In a statement, Education Minister Adriana Lagrange said she welcomes that decision but said it can be amended if circumstances demand it.
“I'm pleased that students can expect a return to a normal school year in September,” she said.
“We have a detailed plan for next school year that includes contingency scenarios for continuing student learning in case there is a significant change in the COVID-19 situation. Alberta Education together with Alberta Health will provide more details about the upcoming school year in the summer.”
Education has been on a roller-coaster since instruction went online in the spring of 2020 amid the first wave of the pandemic, before in-person classes returned last fall.
Those in grades 7 to 12 returned to online learning in the fall when the second wave of COVID -19 hit, and individual high schools have reverted to that approach when hit by outbreaks.
Mandatory diploma exams for Grade 12 were suspended, a move that will be reversed for the coming school year, says Alberta Education.
The same will apply to provincial achievement exams for grades 6 and 9 students.
The announcement by the province is premature, said Wing Li, spokeswoman for the group Support Our Students.
“We know there could be COVID -19 fluctuations in the summer,” she said.
“We want things to be back to normal but we don't think we're out of the woods yet.”
She also noted those under 12 years of age have yet to be vaccinated, and it's unclear when that will happen.
Li also said many families are going to feel uncomfortable sending their children to school this fall but might feel obligated to do so.
“A lot of parents will be forced to send their kids back,” she said.
She noted thousands of students and school staff were infected by COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.
As of Wednesday, there were 134 schools in the province under an outbreak or alert status — about five per cent of all those in the province — and since Jan. 11 there have been 905 likely in-school transmissions.
“That's a lot lower than there were in the past,” said Li.
The province said the epidemiological situation will be reviewed in August before the commencement of classes.
On Tuesday, Alberta's chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said it's not yet clear when vaccines will be provided for students aged 12 and younger, but added their risk of infection is lower.