September 30th, 2020

Alberta aims for ‘near-normal’ schooling

By RYAN MCCRACKEN on June 11, 2020.

ALBERTA NEWSROOM PHOTO - Education minister Adriana LaGrange discusses Alberta's re-entry plan for the 2020-21 school year during a press conference Wednesday.

rmccracken@medicinehatnews.com@MHNMcCracken

The provincial government announced Wednesday it is “targeting a return to near-normal operations” at schools across Alberta in the fall.

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange presented a three-scenario model Wednesday that school districts across the province will follow entering the 2020-21 school year, with the goal of getting back to a normal routine in the classroom as soon as possible.

“Based on the information we have at hand right now, we expect that students will be at school in September,” LaGrange said in a press conference. “Teachers, school boards and parents did their absolute best to adapt to a different way of learning as they guided and supported students at home since March, and our students did their best to adapt to that learning at home. We all know, though, that students learn best in the classroom with their peers, provided that it’s safe to do so.”

In the first scenario – which LaGrange says the government is targeting – students will return to daily in-school classes in the fall with some added health measures, while scenario 2 would feature partial in-school classes and the third would continue schooling from home.

LaGrange added the approach may vary regionally depending on case numbers in specific areas, and the government will make the final decision as to which scenario each region will follow by Aug. 1 – though school boards should be prepared to transition between scenarios on short notice.

“Given that the plan is to have scenarios be determined by region, it looks pretty good for us to be coming back to school in scenario 1,” said Medicine Hat Public School Division superintendent Mark Davidson. “We’re hopeful that the minister is correct in her assertion that we should be back to near-normal for the fall. We’re also pleased there’s some pretty clear direction around what scenario 2 could look like in schools, we’re satisfied with the level of prescriptive detail that’s provided and also with the level of leeway that’s given to jurisdictions in order to make it work within scenario 2.”

Medicine Hat Catholic Board of Education superintendent Dwayne Zarichny says he’s thrilled to see the potential for students to return to classrooms in the fall, adding staff, students and parents alike have all gone the extra mile to close out this school year strong from home.

“(MHCBE) had been preparing under the assumption that we would be returning to relatively regular classes in the fall … We’re really happy that the planning we’ve done so far has been in accordance, and that all indications from the ministry indicate that we are on the right track,” said Zarichny. “I have to sing the praises of our students, our staff and our parents for all the hard work that’s gone in over the last few months. It’s been a tremendous learning curve for all of those folks involved, both in terms of utilizing the technology to teach students at home, as well as offering home education.”

Added health measures at schools will include routine cleaning, disinfecting and screening for illness, a stay-at-home policy for ill staff and students and physical distancing guidelines, while rooms may be reorganized to create more space and students could be grouped into cohorts. Masks would not be required, but could be used for students who are ill or when physical distancing isn’t possible.

Davidson says school boards were previously presented with a “pretty clear picture” of what scenarios 1 and 2 would look like, which allowed them to begin planning for the new health measures in advance.

“We’ve already started looking at the cleaning cycle and measures that we need to be taking, and what kind of hand sanitizer and supplies that we would need to have in place in order to welcome students back to school,” said Davidson.

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