Central Alberta school officials are looking forward to welcoming students back to class on Monday, but have concerns about whether Omicron will effect the ‘longevity’ of in-class learning. (File photo by The Canadian Press)

Central Alberta school officials are looking forward to welcoming students back to class on Monday, but have concerns about whether Omicron will effect the ‘longevity’ of in-class learning. (File photo by The Canadian Press)

Central Alberta schools prepare to welcome back students, despite some ‘trepidation’

Board chairs are hoping to get more answers Thursday from health minister

School divisions around central Alberta are preparing for the return of thousands of students on Monday — but not without COVID-related questions and concerns.

“There is some trepidation as Omicron makes its way through and a few more people test positive,” said Kurt Sacher, superintendent of the Chinook’s Edge School Division.

“We worry about staffing shortages and we worry about student attendance challenges.”

If a shift to online education is required at some point, Sacher said his administration and staff will be ready.

But for now, “we are optimistic that the in-person classes will work well,” added Sacher, who said his staff and schools are fully prepared to welcome the district’s 11,000 students back to classrooms on Monday.

“We are certainly excited. We feel the best work is done in a face-to-face environment,” which also allows for the social and emotional development of children and teenagers, he said.

Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange stated on Wednesday that K-12 students will return to in-person learning, a decision made after consultations with teachers, parents and school boards.

With safe and effective vaccines for anyone five or older, LaGrange said it’s prudent to keep schools open.

The government will be providing rapid tests and masks to students and teachers, which should arrive by the end of next week.

Parents are asked to do daily health assessments on their kids and a rapid test once or twice a week to catch asymptomatic infections and limit introducing the virus to schools.

Nicole Buchanan, chair of Red Deer Public Schools, hoped to get some questions answered through a scheduled virtual meeting with the health minister and other school board chairs on Thursday afternoon.

“There is a lot of uncertainty,” admitted Buchanan — particularly around how classes will operate if teachers become ill or have to stay home to isolate. “Will there be enough substitute teachers?”

Buchanan said Red Deer Public Schools are prepared to go online, if needed, but she’s also hoping that classroom learning can go forward, unhindered, because she believes it’s the best learning environment for kids.

Between the enhanced cleaning, physical distancing, and the use of masks and rapid tests, Buchanan is hoping the return to classrooms will have “longevity,” but she said, “certainly there’s also concern… Everyone’s trying to do their best. Health and safety are of the upmost importance so we are doing everything we possibly can to make sure the return to school is as safe as it possibly can be.”



lmichelin@reddeeradvocate.com

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