Maryview School students arrive for their first day of classes Monday. “Back to school is always a special time. It’s always a busy time and an exciting time, I think this year more so,” says Bruce Buruma of Red Deer Public Schools, which begins welcoming its students back Tuesday. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)

Two-metre distancing rule doesn’t apply to schools

Schools reopen for Red Deer Catholic Regional School students

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health says she’s sorry about anxiety and confusion caused by a public health order.

On Saturday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw signed a health order that states schools do not have to ensure students and staff are able to maintain a minimum of two metres distance when seated in the classroom if they do not face each other, and so long as seating allows for the greatest possible distance.

“I’m stunned by this reversal of physical distancing in classrooms,” Alberta Teachers’ Association president Jason Schilling tweeted Sunday evening about the order.

“This goes against everything we’ve been told for months.”

Hinshaw said Monday the timing of Order 33-2020 was not meant to hide information. “Ironically, it was meant to be transparent.

“It’s interesting how this is being interpreted, as the guidance that has been in place for weeks, and the policy direction that was set at the beginning of August, is exactly the same as Order 33.”

Bruce Buruma, director of community relations with Red Deer Public Schools, agreed the safety rules are the same as those previously outlined by the province.

“It’s the same that it was before. If they couldn’t ensure the proper physical distancing, then masks needed to be worn,” Buruma said.

Grade 4 to 12 students in Alberta, and all staff, must wear masks where physical distancing cannot be maintained, including on school buses and shared areas such as hallways.

Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools welcomed back a portion of its students on Monday as part of a staggered re-entry process to kick off the 2020-21 school year.

Students at Red Deer Public Schools will begin staggered re-entry on Tuesday.

Buruma said everyone is excited for classes to begin.

“Back to school is always a special time. It’s always a busy time and an exciting time, I think this year more so. Students have been away from school since March. Staff have not had that connection,” Buruma said.

Schools with Chinook’s Edge School Division also reopen on Tuesday for staggered re-entry.

Teacher and parent Judith Ellingsgaard said each of her three children responded differently when COVID-19 disrupted their schooling.

“As a parent, I can see the struggles some students may be having with back-to-school jitters. But I also see how much they are looking forward to returning – our whole family is excited to be in school,” said Ellingsgaard, who is one of 15 new teachers with Chinook’s Edge.

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