Students and teachers will be back in classrooms on Jan. 10.
Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced Wednesday that K-12 students will return to in-person learning on Monday, citing evidence from other jurisdictions and after consultations with teachers, parents and school boards.
“I have heard overwhelmingly from families that learning in person is best for their kids who feel more connected, learn better and thrive while attending school in person,” LaGrange said.
“Experts agree and continue to stress the importance of in-person learning to the overall health of children and youth. That is why Alberta’s government has placed such a high priority on safe in-class instruction and making sure schools have the tools they need to continue providing a world-class education to Alberta students.”
LaGrange added the government will begin shipping masks and rapid tests to schools this week and they should receive shipments by the end of next week.
Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said it is especially important to allow kids back in school because of how much they have sacrificed to keep the rest of their communities safe.
“This is especially true in the first few months of the pandemic when they missed out on in-person learning, extracurricular activities and time spent simply being kids,” she said, adding that everyone has a role to play in limiting community transmission.
“Now that we know more about preventing transmission and we have safe, effective vaccines available to everyone age five and older, I believe it is prudent to keep schools open for in-person instruction.”
Hinshaw added that parents, along with daily health assessments, should do a rapid test once or twice a week to catch asymptomatic infections and limit the risk of introducing infection into schools.
“These steps are critical to limiting exposure in schools and keeping them open,” she said.
“The current approach balances the risks our children face and each family will need to weigh the impact of those risks.”
Based on evidence out of B.C. as well as provincial data, Hinshaw explained that throughout the pandemic, there hasn’t been significant spread of COVID-19 in schools.
“Typically, if we did see in-school transmission, it was to a small number of people,” Hinshaw said.
“There were rare instances where there were larger outbreaks but for the most part, transmission was maintained to a very small number of people… we’ve seen throughout the pandemic that the risk of introduction into a school is higher while there’s higher community risk, the actual school environment continues to be one where there is limited risk of onward spread.”
Hinshaw also noted that Alberta is changing its approach to reporting COVID-19 cases in schools. Cases among students and school staff will still be notified, but Alberta Health Services will no longer have the capacity to do full case investigations for non-high-risk case settings. Instead, the government will focus on high-risk settings such as continuing care.
Decisions on shifting entire schools or school authorities to at-home learning will be made by the Alberta government, with input from school authorities. For both situations, consideration will be given to student absentee rates, the ability of a school or school authority to have staff available to operate in-school classes and other relevant information, including local health data, if available.
The province also announced that next week students in Grades 4 to 9 and their parents will be able to view free online tutoring resources, through the e-Tutoring Hub, to catch up on important skills and learning students may have fallen behind on due to the pandemic.