May 11th, 2021

Schools ready for another virtual switch

By KELLEN TANIGUCHI on May 4, 2021.

Local school divisions are preparing for a transition to online learning for junior and senior high school students as Medicine Hat trends toward becoming a COVID-19 “hot spot.”

Premier Jason Kenney introduced targeted restrictions Thursday for regions with a COVID-19 case rate of at least 350 per 100,000 people and 250 total active cases. As of Monday, Medicine Hat has a case rate of 339.1 per 100,000 people and 231 active COVID-19 cases – once the city hits 250 active cases, it will qualify for the targeted restrictions.

Alberta Health says once a region becomes a hot spot, the targeted restrictions will automatically be applied and would remain in place for two weeks, or until the region falls back below the case threshold – whichever is longer.

Junior and senior high school students transitioning to online learning is a part of the targeted restrictions and the Medicine Hat Public School Division’s superintendent says they are prepared for the change.

“It’s certainly not our first shift in that direction, so we know that our staff have the skills, and our students have the skills and materials they need in order to make a successful transition,” said Mark Davidson. “We’re watching our numbers locally, comparing them to the threshold and we can see we’re likely to be put into a position to make that transition in Grades 7-12 within days.”

Davidson says the division currently has 306 students, 29 teachers and four support staff in quarantine as of Monday and adds they have seen an increase in those numbers as of late. Over the weekend, the division announced four additional COVID-19 cases throughout its schools.

“The vast majority of that rise in numbers has occurred just in the last few days,” he said. “We are concerned with the rapid rise in the number of cases and the significant increase and impact that those cases have had on the function of our schools. We have been finding it increasingly difficult to find substitute teachers to cover classes, we are never able to find enough substitute educational assistants to cover absences there, so it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep our schools’ staffed and operating optimally with all of the disruptions that are created by COVID cases and the resulting quarantine.”

MHPSD has already been forced to transition Alexandra Middle School’s Grade 8 and 9 students to online learning due to the effects of COVID-19 quarantine protocols.

The Medicine Hat Catholic Board of Education has faced similar difficulties with both Notre Dame Academy and St. Mary’s School currently teaching its students remotely. If the city was to become a hot spot, the MHCBE would only have to move students at Monsignor McCoy High School to a virtual classroom.

Davidson says the MHPSD is supportive of any measures that support public health and he’s hopeful a switch to at-home learning would be supportive of protecting people in the community. He adds he is proud of how staff within the division have been handling the pandemic.

“I’m incredibly proud of how our staff have worked to take good care of our students, to protect their learning and to protect them,” said Davidson. “I’m very mindful of the strain that the current situation is having on them and the families we serve.”

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