An overwhelming majority of Alberta parents want their children to return to school in the fall — and almost half want schools back to normal.
But only 55 per cent were in favour of a modified school calendar with changes such as longer or shorter school hours, split classes, morning or afternoon attendance, or a combination of in-class and at-home learning.
Jaelene Tweedle, chair of the citywide school council for Red Deer Public Schools, said she wasn’t surprised most parents want to see schools reopen, and that 45 per cent want things back to normal for the sake of their kids and so parents can return full time to work.
“I am pleased that people spoke up. I think it’s going to be a nervous time, no matter what for people. For some, children not going back would be a very difficult thing,” Tweedle said.
More than 66,000 people responded to the mid-May survey.
Fifty-five per cent of respondents said they had difficulties with online learning since COVID-19 forced classrooms to close in mid-March. Issues include internet capacity, lack of devices, communication with schools or teachers, access to curriculum or resources, health problems and more.
On a scale of one to five, only 11 per cent rated the online experience as great. Eight per cent rated it as terrible. Thirty-eight per cent rated it three out of five.
Tweedle said she was glad parents voiced their opinions on health and safety standards.
Hygiene requirements for students, and health protocols for when students become ill, were concerns for 86 per cent of parents.
Other concerns included school sanitation standards at 82 per cent; mental health supports at 81 per cent; social distancing in schools at 72 per cent; and personal protective equipment, and transportation, both at 63 per cent.
While physical health standards are important, so are mental health supports for students and staff, she said.
“I don’t think it will be the end of the world for kids, academically, for them to try and catch up. But I think we would be foolish to think there would not be mental health aspects that are going to come into play.”
And whatever Alberta Education decides, more feedback from Albertans will be needed, Tweedle said.
Alberta Education has not made a decision on how education will be provided in September, but it has developed three scenarios: normal school operations; partially reopening schools with some restrictions; and continuing at-home learning.
On Monday, students in British Columbia had the option of returning to the classroom. Quebec was the first province to welcome back some students last month.