Here’s how Edmonton’s public, Catholic divisions are planning to return to the classroom

EDMONTON — Edmonton Public Schools will keep some of the practices it brought in during the beginning of the pandemic when classes resume, including cohorting, symptomatic and positive-case isolation periods, and daily health screening.

The division released on Monday the plan, which it could change during the academic year if needed.

“I know that not everyone agrees on things like masking and all the rest of it, but we’ve created our plans with student safety as our top priority,” superintendent Darrel Robertson told media.

The division plans to spend about $8 million from its operations reserve on COVID-19: $3 million on supplies to keep up enhanced cleaning protocols, and $5 million on additional staffing.

Each day, families and staff will be required to complete Alberta Health’s wellness checklist. Anyone with symptoms will not be allowed in school. Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 or has symptoms will be required to isolate.

Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 6 students will be cohorted by classes because the age group is ineligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the plan.

Where possible, the division will continue to enable physical distancing by staggering classes, assigning entry and exit doors for students, and rearranging some seating in common areas. A few days earlier, it also decided the school would mandate masks until a COVID-19 vaccine is available to youth of all ages and return to a two-semester calendar.

“Masks are actually enabling us to transition back to more of a normal situation,” Robertson said, noting the division will bring back field trips, co-curricular activities and parent volunteers.

While the province will not report cases to schools, nor require staff and families to report positive test results to their principals, the public division says it will tell the school community if it has been notified of a positive diagnosis confirmed by Alberta Health Services.

Quarantine for close contacts will also not be required, as per the province.

Families will have until Aug. 19 to choose classroom or at-home learning, which 28 to 33 per cent chose to do the previous year.

According to the superintendent, about 60 per cent of guardians had already made a choice, with 95 per cent of those choosing in-school learning. They are allowed to change their preference after seeing the plan, he noted.

However, he said the division’s second semester goal has not changed.

“We would like to actually transition all students back to face-to-face learning in semester two, but we’re going to see how this fourth wave goes.”

THE CATHOLIC DIVISION’S PLAN

Unlike the public system, Edmonton Catholic Schools will not make masks mandatory.

But like the public system, it will also require staff and students to complete Alberta’s wellness checklist before coming to school and positive cases and symptomatic people to isolate.

“Understanding that many of our students and staff are vaccinated, many of the restrictions which we have used over the past year will end,” the document released Monday afternoon reads.

The division will “strongly recommend” masks at all class levels, except on buses where they are provincially mandated and in common areas where the school will require them. Staff will also be required to wear masks in common areas, and “strongly recommended” to wear them in the classroom.

Visitors will need to make appointments to visit the school and mask up.

Unlike the public system, volunteers will not be allowed to work directly with students.

Families will be “encouraged” to report positive cases to administration, and the division will report a school-wide absence rate of 10 per cent or higher.

The plan will be reviewed on Sept. 27, when Alberta’s chief medical officer of health is expected to give an update on the province’s next step in its pandemic response.

The Catholic division, which has some schools that start the academic year early in August, kept its 2021-21 COVID-19 protocols in place while awaiting provincial guidance.

That was delivered on Friday alongside an announcement Alberta was delaying its plan to stop COVID-19 testing and isolation requirements until Sept. 27.

The province made no strong requirements of school divisions. Instead, it recommended screening protocols and other practices to local school authorities, which will design their own plans. Masks, cohorts and physical distancing were described as necessary during the beginning of the pandemic, but not mandated by the province. The guidance suggests they are tools to manage a respiratory virus outbreak.

Schools are also to host Alberta Health Services-run COVID-19 clinics for students who are old enough to get the shot.

Both the public and Catholic divisions said it would support the clinics.

Catholic students return to classrooms on Sept. 1 and public students on Sept. 2. 

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