The Government of Alberta announced last week that it would take additional time to ease the health measures around COVID-19 and to implement its plan to bring them in line with other respiratory viruses.
Mandatory masking orders in public transit, mandatory isolation for 10 days for those with COVID-19 or its symptoms, and testing of symptomatic individuals will continue until Sept. 27. These measures were initially scheduled to be removed on Aug. 16.
Recent data showed that a peak in hospital admissions that would disrupt the health system at provincial level remains extremely unlikely, stated the province, but that the uncertainty and potential for larger impacts warrants further caution.
Consistent with the extended timelines for easing these measures, schools will also continue screening staff and students for symptoms daily and isolate symptomatic students and staff.
School authorities have the ability to put in place local measures, such as physical distancing, cohorting, and masking requirements that may exceed provincial guidance.
“We are presently reviewing the Government guidelines and using them to prepare our back to school plan which we will share with our communities in the coming days,” stated Mike Paonessa, superintendent of the Evergreen Catholic Separate School Division (ECSSD).
ECSSD will still offer in-school and online learning, but more information will be available closer to when the school year starts, added Barb Marchant, principal at Father Gerard Redmond High School.
Harry Collinge High School, Ecole Mountain View Elementary, Crescent Valley Elementary, and the Grande Yellowhead Public School Division (GYPSD) did not respond prior to the Voice deadline.
A detailed 2021-22 School Year Plan contains two contingency scenarios for continuing student learning if there is a significant change in the COVID-19 situation in the fall.
The two contingency plans include at-home/online learning and near-normal in-school classes with increased health measures. The decision to move a portion of a school to at-home/online learning due to operational reasons will be at the discretion of the local school authority.
Under the at-home learning contingency plan, hours of instruction will be determined by school authorities for grades kindergarten to six, while meeting in-school requirements for grades seven to twelve. Time spent teaching non-core subjects may be reduced by the school authority to allow for additional instruction time on core subjects for grades one through nine.
The principal would also be able to award unallocated credits to students in grades 10, 11 and 12.
“With these measures in place and climbing vaccination rates, students and parents can look forward to in-person classes, with no restrictions on in-person learning or extracurricular activities. However, masking will be required on school buses,” stated a release from the province.
As of Sept. 7, COVID-19 vaccines will be available through temporary clinics in schools for students in grades 7 to 12, as well as teachers and staff. To receive a vaccine, parent or guardian consent for students will be required through consent forms.
As of Aug. 15, 65.8 per cent of 12 to 14 year old Albertans had one dose and 54.5 per cent were fully vaccinated, while 67.7 per cent of 15 to 19 year old Albertans were partially vaccinated and 57.1 per cent were fully vaccinated.
Zone Medical Officers of Health from Alberta Health Services (AHS) may recommend masking to manage an outbreak at schools and prevent more widespread transmission of a respiratory illness or other additional measures.
Since July 29, quarantine for close contacts is no longer mandatory but still recommended, contact tracers no longer notify close contacts about exposure to COVID-19 but continue to investigate cases in high-risk settings, outbreak management and identification focuses on high-risk locations, community outbreaks with severe outcomes continue to be addressed, and asymptomatic testing is no longer recommended.
Masha Scheele, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hinton Voice