While there are a few students and staff in isolation, the vast majority of K-12 students in the Pembina Hills School Division and Aspen View Public Schools will resume in-person classes on Tuesday, May 25.
Prior to students transitioning to at-home learning, there were a number of outbreaks and alerts at schools throughout the Pembina Hills School Division, including schools in Barrhead, Westlock, Clyde, Neerlandia and Dapp.
However, Assistant Supt. of Education Services Mark Thiesen stated on Friday that the past week saw the “lift dates” for a number of students and staff who had to remain in isolation, based on their dates of exposure.
In fact, Thiesen suggested that there will only be eight students and five staff in isolation, all of which are connected to early learning programs that continued running after May 7.
Thiesen said the division is looking forward to having the students return to classrooms, as this next little while is an important time in their learning.
“Every day that we have kids in front of us, (our staff) take advantage of those days. We need these last … 5-6 weeks, or whatever’s left,” he said.
According to the provincial map listing school-related COVID-19 cases, Aspen View Public Schools had a COVID-19 outbreak and an alert listed for Edwin Parr Composite High School and Landing Trail Intermediate School respectively as of May 21.
Communications officer Ross Hunter suggested that both schools were close to having their outbreak/alert status removed, noting that a school with an outbreak must go 28 consecutive days without additional cases for that designation to end.
But while there may be some students and staff required to self-isolate as of May 25, Hunter said that all of Aspen View’s schools will be sufficiently staffed to be able to operate.
The resumption of provincewide in-person classes was announced by Education Minister Adriana LaGrange on May 19. The one exception to this announcement was in the Rural Municipality of Wood Buffalo, where students will continue learning from home until May 31.
LaGrange said the decision to move to at-home learning provincewide on May 7 (with the exception of Hutterite Colony schools, outreach schools and early education programs) was made by Alberta Education to help ease the operational pressures schools were facing as a result of rising COVID-19 cases.
At the beginning of the month, there were large numbers of staff and students in isolation, which made continuing in-person learning very difficult, she said.
“The decision to temporarily transition to at-home learning was a really hard one to make for me,” LaGrange said. “However, it was necessary so that we could continue having our students learn and also have the ability to preserve the rest of the school year.”
Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw noted that in early May, there was an average of 60 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 school-aged children being identified every day.
However, that amount has sharply declined to about 31 cases among 100,000 school-aged children every day.
“The data since in-person learning began has shown that cases in school-aged Albertans rise and fall in line with changes in rates of community transmission,” Hinshaw said.
LaGrange clarified that the decision made on May 4 to move to at-home learning was not made by Alberta Health or Dr. Hinshaw.
However, she did echo Hinshaw in insisting that the safety protocols in place within schools do effectively limit the risk of widespread in-school transmission.
As such, health protocols like mask-wearing requirements, cohorts, screening for symptoms and seating arrangements will remain in place once students are back in classrooms.
“I am confident that students will finish this challenging school year learning in their classrooms,” she said.
“I hope the return to in-person learning and a daily school routine will provide families with a much-needed sense of normalcy in their lives.”