CALGARY – Thousands of K-12 students resumed in-person learning on Monday, as pandemic restrictions remain in place in Alberta, which will remain in effect until at least January 21.
Some students have welcomed the return to school after a long break, including attending virtual classes last week.
“I’m really excited to go back to school because I feel like online classes weren’t really the way to learn,” said Ami Avdic, a grade 10 student at Western Canada. High School in Calgary.
Others wonder why Alberta is resuming classes since COVID-19 cases are higher than in the fall and the province extended the latest lockdown of businesses and gatherings.
“I feel a little nervous to be honest,” said Lyane Ndossi Vinay, a 12th grade at Western Canada High School.
“A little confused as to why we’re going back to see that everything else remains closed. ”
Dr Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said last week there was little cause for concern as transmissions of COVID-19 in schools have been found to be rare.
Students and school staff make up just 0.4% of all cases in Alberta, Hinshaw said, and data from the fall showed transmission at school was not the main contributor to positive cases.
“In fact, analysis of all our cases in school-aged children (confirmed) only about six percent of all of these cases were determined to have been acquired in school,” she said.
Almost 80 percent of schools in Alberta have had confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 294 of the province’s 379 schools have been designated as “epidemic,” with at least two cases recorded.
Of these schools, 122 are also “under surveillance” as five or more cases have been reported. These figures have prompted some experts to disagree with the province’s claim regarding low rates of school transmission.
Ryan Imgrund, a COVID-19 biostatistician, believes the positivity rate in schools is actually much higher than the province is reporting because no asymptomatic testing is done.
“What we don’t want is the school reopening prematurely when it shouldn’t be open and then we have to do the exact same thing in March or April,” he said.
Imgrund makes his point with test data from an Ontario school. The administration believed there were only three positive cases, but 49 cases were confirmed once all 350 students were tested.
According to the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA), persistent issues related to large class sizes and lack of support systems for staff remain significant concerns ahead of the return to class.
Jason Schilling, president of the ATA, challenges the province to take more precautions.
“Teachers, students, families and the community deserve to be better protected,” said Schilling. “There are a series of measures that would help make schools safer and keep them open longer that the government continues to ignore. ”
The ATA produced a report outlining eight recommendations that it said would keep communities and schools open longer during the pandemic. He fears that without any change, learning in school will be disrupted again.
Advocates for children say the priority should be to ensure that classes continue without interruption.
“Schools should be the last place to close and the first place to open,” said Sara Austin CEO of Children First.
“There has been a huge increase in screen time for children, which is impacting their mental health. As adults, as decision makers, we must do all we can to contain the spread and keep children in school. ”
A parent of Grades 4 and 11 fears their children will face more educational barriers and hopes the province will provide an updated school plan.
“They’re nervous, I’m nervous,” Mayssoun Hniedi said.
“With elementary school a little more confident because we haven’t had a lot of cases, but with high school it’s another story as there have been a lot of interruptions due to the quarantine of whole classes.
“Not much has changed in the plan, I don’t think it’s different now.”
Four other parent, educator and doctor organizations have also formed a coalition urging the government to adopt updated strategies to make schools safer and continue learning in the classroom.
Masks4Canada (Alberta) has joined forces with the AB Coalition for Safer School Startup with RadEducatorsNetwork, ABDocs4Teachers and Support Our Students Alberta. Some of their recommendations include ventilation ratings for all schools and setting clear benchmarks for what will trigger closures or class changes.
The Government of Alberta is continuing its commitment of $ 120 million in school authority funding for this school year, as well as $ 250 million in fast-start funding for capital maintenance and renewal, and an investment of $ 10 million. dollars in personal protective equipment like masks, face shields and disinfectants.
ATA says the money has been allocated in the pre-pandemic budget and more resources are needed.
Province says it has also approved the use of $ 363 million in council reserves for costs related to COVID-19 and is ready to make changes to the school reintegration plan as needed .