The Government of Alberta announced on July 21, 2020 that schools in Alberta would reopen in the fall under scenario one, which is “near-normal daily operations with health measures.”
Face masks for staff and students will be optional, and practices such as physical distancing, cohorting, frequent handwashing, staying home when sick and increased cleaning of surfaces, will be followed.
“We are determined to do everything that we can to safely return our students, teachers and staff to school,” said Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange in the press release.
According to Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Ron Orr, as the Alberta Government had stated the decision would be made by August 1, the July 21 was not ahead of schedule, however, the government wanted to give parents, schools and school boards as much notice as possible, in order to relieve pressure they may be feeling.
“There’s a high level of interest and concern on both sides of what we should do,” said Orr, adding parents are concerned for the health of their family, while others are concerned about the education of their children who weren’t learning well at home.
“There’s a lot of concern and anxiety.”
Orr says the decision to go with scenario one was made through discussions and a concerted effort between the chief medical officer of health, the Alberta Teachers Association (ATA), and the association of superintendents.
“We attempted to balance the concerns for health with the ongoing concern for the education of kids.”
As of July 23, Ponoka County had seven active cases (www.alberta.ca).
According to Orr, each school board will have the freedom, permissions and authority to suspend a class or school in the event of an outbreak.
Orr added that the UCP just passed the Freedom in Education bill, and parents will have the choice to send their child to school or home-school them, or work with their school to continue teacher-directed at-home learning.
“No parent will be forced to send their kid to school.”
The UCP government has added $15 million to Alberta school boards to assist with social distancing renovations, such as touch-less toilets, sinks and fountains, and $120 million for operational funding.
According to the July 21 Government of Alberta press release, Wolf Creek Public Schools will be receiving $940, 371 more than it did in 2019, for a total of $76,880,371.
This, after the school division had been facing a $3 million deficit this past school year.
In June, the WCPS board allocated $400,000 for COVID-19 costs.
“Those funds, which are from unspent budget allocations due to reduced operational costs during the COVID-19 school closures, will ensure items such as enhanced sanitation, increased custodial FTE, PPE procurement, including signage, hand sanitizer, masks, shields, gloves, hands-free water faucets and fountains, etcetera,” said Lovell in a provided statement.
WCPS also received a Plant Operations and Maintenance Grant amounting to $7.3 million which can be used for COVID-19 related costs and resources.
Although the full costs won’t be known until late in the school year, Lovells says WCPS is “confident going into the next school year based on the commitment our Board has made and the flexibility we have in our budget.”
Many health protocols from kindergarten to Grade 12 are the same, but there are some differences.
“Student cohorting is one example. Another difference is protocols on playgrounds, lunch and breaks, there will also be some limits on activities in specific classes and courses at specific grade levels.
“In particular in music, they would not play wind instruments, or sing. These measures are not unique to Wolf Creek Public Schools, but are to ensure a safe and healthy learning environment, while preserving the kind of classroom structure students are accustomed to.”
The school division has been working on several contingency plans for reopening for several months.
“Because of the close collaborative work with the Alberta Government and Alberta Health, the Alberta government’s plans are closely aligned with ours and we can now formally move our plans forward at both the division and school level.
“We are confident that we have an excellent plan that will focus on addressing the many health and safety concerns around COVID-19, while supporting student learning in the place that it is most effective, which is the classroom,” said Lovell, adding WCPS will need cooperation and support from all partners, including students, staff, parents and the community to ensure everyone’s health and safety.
Their will be daily health protocols in place, such as daily screening for staff and students, regular and thorough sanitation of buildings, proper hand hygiene and appropriate physical distancing when possible.
A letter to parents was sent out on July 23, with additional information on reopening.
Individualized school re-entry plans will be released between Aug. 24 to 28.
A re-entry tool kit for parents can be found at www.alberta.ca