Red Deer teachers and school staff are scrambling to bring Grade 7 to 12 classes online for Monday.
“We’re activating this as well as we can… Our teachers are working incredibly hard,” said Bruce Buruma, community relations director of Red Deer Public Schools.
To combat Alberta’s alarming rise in COVID-19 cases, Premier Jason Kenney has ordered a short-term stint of at-home learning for older students, who are thought to be spreading the virus more actively than their younger cohorts.
Grades 7 to 12 must learn remotely from Monday to when the school Christmas break starts on Dec. 18.
Then, after the holidays, all students — including kindergarten to Grade 6 pupils — will spend the first week of school in the new year, from Jan. 4 to 8, again learning from home before returning to classrooms, in case they were exposed to COVID-19 during the break.
Buruma said viral cases have been climbing in the school district, as they have in the community: 28 cases were identified in various Red Deer public schools since the start of September, affecting more than 1,400 staff and students.
This has meant that entire classes have had to self-isolate for up to two weeks to prevent viral spread.
Buruma said potentially exposed, but otherwise healthy students, have already been learning from home during these periods.
Considering these measures and the lockdown last spring, he feels the district is now better prepared to set up remote education on a short-term basis, as ordered this week by Kenney.
Until regular, in-person classes can resume for Alberta students on Jan. 11, the public district has about 1,000 computers available for students who don’t have the needed technology at home.
Buruma said plans are underway to prevent some teenagers from falling behind in their education, as happened last spring.
“We are trying to maintain the same levels of learning, assessment and content as we have in the classroom.”
For instance, students will stick with their same timetables to minimize disruption during the transition to remote learning.
He added, “If they have math first thing in the morning, they will still have math in the morning while they are at home.”
Buruma doesn’t think the wider community truly appreciates “just how hard this has been on teachers, who have had to balance physical distancing with the social and emotional needs of the kids. And now this is a new chapter and they are again having to adapt learning…”
Jason Schilling, president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, agrees that distance learning is hard on teachers and students, who both prefer in-person interactions: “Teaching is about relationships.”
He hopes everybody in the community will obey pandemic protocols and help to lower rising viral cases, so that classes can resume as usual in January.
Meanwhile, the ATA has advocated for stronger virus prevention protocols and supports the need for at-home learning over the next few weeks.
Schilling only hopes every effort will be made to accommodate students’ diverse needs.
The Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division is reviewing the new requirements and recommendations. Administrators have stated they will share plans and next steps in the coming days.
Earlier this week, Alberta Education said diploma exams will be optional for students for the November to August 2021 period, due to educational disruptions caused by the pandemic.