Alberta back to school halted as coronavirus infections send hundreds of students home


Tara Orgill (center) with son Taylor (left) and daughter Jaylyn who are now self-quarantined for 14 days after Taylor was exposed to a known COVID case at her high school in Calgary on September 10 2020.

Todd Korol / Le Globe and Mail

Logan Orgill lasted four days at his new school.

The grade 10 student began classes at Bowness High School in Calgary on September 1, the first Tuesday of the month. Crowded hallways and other coronavirus protocol violations put him under stress. His mother got the call on Saturday: Logan may have been exposed to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 at school and the whole family has to self-isolate for 14 days. This means that Logan’s brother and sister are also out of school.

“I’m here at home, bored with my mind, doing nothing,” Logan said last week. The school has not assigned any homework or an online class schedule, he said. “They’re just teaching people. But what about the kids at home who don’t learn anything? For example, how are we supposed to catch up? “

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Most schools in Alberta have been open for about two weeks, and Logan’s eventful start provides a glimpse of what students, parents and educators across the country will face this year. Students and teachers who have chosen to spend the year in physical schools will have to switch between learning in the classroom and studying at home for extended periods of time. Institutions will need to manage teacher shortages caused by potential exposure to COVID-19. Parents will have to figure out how to educate their children at home without warning.

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Logan’s mother, a single mom worried about her family’s health and future disruption to her children’s schools, removed him from Bowness and enrolled him in the Calgary Board of Education’s Outreach program, where students study independently and sometimes enter brick and mortar facilities. to help. But first, Logan said he had to finish isolating himself.

“It definitely disrupts my education because we have to learn and missing high school is a little different,” said Logan, 15.

Alberta health services identified 32 people on Friday who attended schools while infected with COVID-19 in 29 schools, according to Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer. Students and staff who may have been exposed to positive cases have been ordered to self-isolate for two weeks, even though they tested negative for COVID-19. Alberta did not disclose how many students were ordered to self-isolate.

Jennifer Fane, a professor at the School of Education and Childhood Studies at BC’s Capilano University, said students and parents shouldn’t worry too much about student progress. when they move from school to home. Teachers, she said, will retrace their lessons when they spot gaps in education.

“Prepare for the back and forth and remember that every kid in Canada is really in the same place. All schools, all school districts, all levels are facing this, ”said Professor Fane.

“And the teachers won’t forget that next year when they have a group of kids” who are behind in some areas. “They will come back and cover these essentials before moving on to the next one.”

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Alberta expects each school division to have distance learning plans ready for when children are due to miss school. As a general rule, students enrolled in traditional schools should have access to tools that serve as online bulletin boards, where teachers post lessons and assignments and students submit assignments and receive feedback.

The result, however, is a patchwork system, depending on the district, school, and teacher. Some divisions are more experienced in distance learning; some students and parts of the province lack access to technology and the Internet. Some school authorities are still working on the details and were not ready to have hundreds of students sent home within days of resumption.

This type of distance learning is different from online education. Distance learning aims to fill in the gaps when children miss class; online education is a separate program that completely replaces in-person education.

About 536,600 students have enrolled in classroom learning this year in public, separate, francophone and charter schools in Alberta, according to Colin Aitchison, a spokesperson for the Minister of Education. About 136,100 students from those same systems have enrolled in distance learning programs, he said. (The province does not have comparable enrollment figures for classroom and distance learning programs from previous years because, until COVID-19 arrived, it was only tracking the number of students enrolled with each school authority, he said.)

Schools, like students and parents, make decisions on the fly. About 100 students at Ross Sheppard School in Edmonton were ordered to self-isolate early last week. Megan Normandeau, spokesperson for Edmonton Public Schools, said students were “supported online through asynchronous learning,” where teachers assign activities that are performed by students throughout the day. -mails, she explained.

Ross Sheppard has temporarily hired five teachers who work online, working with school staff, to help isolate students, Normandeau said in a statement.

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Public health guidelines, coupled with parental nerves, have increased the number of students staying away from schools far beyond those who may have shared a classroom with an infectious person.

Stacey Ferguson has three daughters – one in Kindergarten, one in Grade 1, and another in Grade 3. Last Monday, the elder woke up with a barking cough and a hoarse voice. This meant she needed a COVID-19 test and couldn’t go to school. And because this girl was being investigated for the disease, her other children had to stay home, according to the school’s daily screening protocol. Their father, a heavy mechanic, also had to stay at home, despite his employer having a sick leave program.

“It feels like we’re back in lockdown,” Ms. Ferguson said. Her children attend Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic School, which is part of the Calgary Catholic School District. She received no homework instruction when she called last week to let the school know her children would be absent.

Ms Ferguson doesn’t blame the school for being poorly prepared so early in the year. However, she plans to home-school her children so that she can establish a predictable routine, which would allow her to resume her insurance business while continuing to teach her children.

Logan Orgill’s mother Tara Orgill is not considering this option. She admits that she doesn’t have the skills to educate her children.

“I’m not a teacher,” Ms. Orgill said. “I don’t know how teachers do it, but they do it.”

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