Central Alberta school jurisdictions are grappling with their options, if schools reopen in the fall and COVID-19 safety rules continue.
Tuesday, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said no decisions have been made on how education will be provided in September, or when decisions will be made.
It was previously announced that students will not be returning to classrooms this school year and will continue learning from home.
Stu Henry, Red Deer Public Schools superintendent, said over the next few weeks, an administration council made up of the district’s principals and vice-principals, will be identifying all potential issues and solutions for reopening schools.
“There’s a ton of implications if we have to come back while the Alberta Health Services guidelines are still in place,” Henry said.
He said elementary school buses are usually filled with 72 children — three students per seat.
“But if we have to have a two-metre distance between children, I question whether we can even put 20 kids on a bus. So how do we even get all of our students to school? Parents may not be able to help.”
He wondered how to best space students in classrooms, and whether that will require shifts for students and using every little space available in schools.
How will social distancing be achieved during physical education classes?
“Will we be asking our staff and our kids to wear masks? I’m seeing that happening in some other countries.”
He was most nervous about how schools can operate if staff must self-isolate if they experience possible COVID symptoms.
“That could have really, really huge implications for our ability to run our school system.”
But even if guidelines are necessary, face-to-face learning is still preferred, he said.
“It’s such a superior version of learning,” Henry said.
The province is working with school authorities on developing a comprehensive re-entry plan that considers three scenarios:
- Normal school operations are able to resume.
- Schools are partially reopened, with some level of restrictions.
- Teacher-directed at-home learning continues.
In a statement, Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools said it is also planning for September and formulating committees for relaunching schools under the direction of Alberta Education and Alberta’s chief medical officer of health.
Kurt Sacher, Chinook’s Edge School Division superintendent, said it’s difficult to anticipate what will be expected of schools in the fall.
Regardless of what is decided, schools will need to address learning difficulties created for some students and families when education was moved online, along with any lingering emotional/social needs, he said.
“You don’t have a community that is physically distancing and physically cautious, and afraid of a pandemic and a virus, and then have them come back without some additional anxieties for them as they transition.
“To think there’s not going to be some additional anxiety that we’re going to work through, I think, is naive,” Sacher said.
He said staff and students have gone through a major readjustment to transition from a system built on physical connection to one focused on the cyberspace.
“There’s been a lot being asked of the system right now, and I don’t expect that to ease off in the fall. I think we’re going to be challenged, but we also are confident that we will come together and figure out the best we can do under whatever the conditions might be,” Sacher said.