Alberta parents are preparing to send their children back to in-person classes next week, some with reluctance and trepidation as the Omicron variant continues to spread quickly in community settings.
Marie Watts, who has two teenagers in high school, one in Grade 9 and the other in Grade 11 in southeast Edmonton, believes sending kids back to the classroom isn't safe.
With record-high cases and a high transmission rate of Omicron within the community, it's not appropriate to send children back to in-person learning next week, Watts said.
"I'm pretty angry about it actually," Watts said. "I'm concerned that we're just going to be putting a bunch of kids in a COVID soup and hoping it all works out."
On Wednesday Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said it's prudent to return to in-person learning and necessary for students' mental wellness.
Watts said classes are lacking high-quality air filtration systems and the province should be handing out the more effective N95 masks, instead of medical masks.
Many children are feeling anxious, she noted.
"The kids don't really want to go back but they need to finish school," Watts said Wednesday.
Eager to get back
Other families welcome the return in-person learning.
Daynelis Brito's three children — aged eight, 10 and 12 — have been going to class since schools were allowed to reopen last spring.
She said she trusts the schools will do their best to keep students safe.
"So far, there has not been much issue with the kids getting sick," Brito said. "And the kids are eager to go back to school."
Brito also believes the symptoms of the Omicron variant are mild and it's just a matter of time before it becomes more common in the community.
"All you have to do is wish for the best, because it's everywhere, right?"
Alberta Teachers' Association president Jason Schilling said the province isn't doing enough to make sure the classrooms are safe.
Schilling said the province needs to invest in KN95 masks, instead of the blue medical ones.
"I'm frustrated beyond words sometimes when I hear our government leaders saying, 'we are doing everything that we possibly can to ensure that our schools and our staff are safe,' " he said. "I don't buy it when we hear this from our leaders."
Watts said the province should keep learning online for another couple of weeks to make sure the Omicron doesn't spread like wildfire.
"It also buys time to do things like finally getting air purifiers in classrooms and maybe actually getting kids masks that protect from airborne viruses like the N95 type," Watts said.
"Then once these things are in place, once the schools are safer, then let the kids go back. But don't put them back in now, wait for it all to fall apart and then send them back online class by class."
Edmonton Public Schools are offering online options to students for the second half of the school year from Feb. 1 to June 28, but families must choose by Jan. 11 and commit to the full semester.
"After January 11, 2022, students cannot move from in-person to online learning," the website says. "This deadline ensures schools have enough teaching staff assigned to both online and in-person classes."
Students wanting to switch to in-person learning need to consult the school to see if there's space in a specific grade or program.
Watts said some subjects are not offered widely in the online format, making it difficult for students to enrol in courses they need to graduate.
Other parents who work full-time, feel the online option is not plausible long-term.