After spending the week following the holiday break learning from home, students across all grade levels returned to in-person learning this week.
On Nov. 24, the province announced new public health measures to stop the spread of COVID-19. One of these changes was that students in Grades 7 through 12 would stop attending classrooms for the remainder of the year, and instead conduct their studies remotely. Then, students across all grades would conduct one week of at-home learning the first week of January (Jan. 4 to 8) following the holiday break.
Evidence indicates that in-school transmission of COVID-19 is rare, said Bevan Daverne, Golden Hills School Division (GHSD) superintendent. Provincial data indicates transmission happens in schools in about 0.1 per cent of cases, and that rate corresponds to what GHSD has been seeing.
“Our statistics match those numbers,” he said. “So, the chances of catching (COVID-19) at school is literally one in one thousand – and that’s if you’ve had a positive case in your classroom.”
The decision for all students to return to in-person learning was driven by evidence that in-person transmission was not the main driver for cases in Alberta’s school population, said Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer, during a Jan. 7 press conference. Only six per cent of cases among school-aged children were determined to be acquired at school, she said. Also, despite staying in school, case rates of elementary-aged children decreased in the same way as older children who learned from home in December, after extracurricular activities and social gatherings were limited, she added.
Scott Morrison, Christ the Redeemer (CTR) Catholic Schools superintendent, said the routines and protocols schools enacted to stop the spread of the virus appear to be effective.
“I think all of our safety and physical distancing and cleaning procedures work really well,” he said.
Instead of in-school transmission disrupting learning, schools were being affected indirectly by transmission of the virus outside of school, explained Daverne.
“If there’s a community case, and that person happened to be in a classroom for one of the days that they were contagious, we isolate the entire classroom,” he said. “So, the large number of community cases we were facing was really wreaking havoc on our routines at school.”
The hope is that other public health measures, such as restrictions on social gatherings, will limit these community transmission events, resulting in less impact on classrooms, noted Hinshaw.
School life will be the same as last time all students were attending school in-person, said Daverne. “We’re going back to all the subroutines that we have been following – we’re back in the saddle,” he said.
Schools are also once again requesting parents to complete a daily screening tool for potential COVID-19 symptoms, he said.
Attendance was high during the past week of at-home learning, said Morrison.
“The kids’ resilience and adaptability and use of the technology was superb,” he said, adding teachers have said they would like to be able to monitor what the kids are doing more closely. “Every teacher wants to look over their work; that’s why they normally walk around the classroom, to see what they’re doing and correct them if they’re making mistakes.”
Another challenge of remote learning is the difficulty of redirecting children who struggle with effective self-regulation, said Morrison. But as all students have now experienced livestreaming to learn, they will be ready to adjust should any challenges arise.
“We are probably even more equipped to use livestreaming to handle further isolation events than we were before,” said Morrison. “Everyone had to experiment with it during the break, so we’ve built an incredible capacity for both staff and students, in the event of further disruptions.”
Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times