‘Delaying the inevitable’: Calgary Catholic district rejects potential delayed school start

St. Stephen School in southwest Calgary announces it is ready to open on Sept. 2, 2020.

As Alberta Education reportedly mulls over a week-long delay to the start of the kindergarten-to-Grade 12 school year following a meeting with the Alberta Teachers’ Association, the head of Calgary’s Catholic school district says he was “puzzled” by the proposed later start date.

I personally see this as delaying the inevitable,” said Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD) chief superintendent Bryan Szumlas. 

“I know students are excited to come back and parents are excited to get their kids back. Yep, there’s some anxiety out there, and maybe those families have children in online education with us as an alternative here at Calgary Catholic. I do find it a bit confusing that this request is being made.”

ATA union president Jason Schilling said Wednesday following a meeting with Education Minister Adriana LaGrange that he hoped one “adjustment” that could be made to the province’s back-to-school plan amid the COVID-19 pandemic is

delaying the first day of school

from the Sept. 1 date planned in most districts to Sept. 8.

The delay would allow teachers and principles to better prepare for the arrival of students, Schilling said. He added that LaGrange promised to speak with local school districts to get their perspective on whether the school year should be delayed.

The CCSD is planning to begin a staggered return to school on Sept. 2, with students in Grades 1–12 back in their normal classroom routines by Sept. 8.

Szumlas said the Catholic district hadn’t yet been consulted by the province on a delayed start, but said the district felt they would be ready for school re-entry under current timelines.

Many of our teachers and administrators are already back in school and preparing for students,” he said.

“Perhaps the request going forward could apply to some particular school divisions, but I can assure you that here at Calgary Catholic, we stand behind the calendar as it’s currently set out.”

The Calgary Board of Education declined to say whether they supported a delay to the school year.

“We have not heard from Alberta Education regarding a delay to the start of the school year,” said CBE spokesperson Megan Geyer in a statement. “Once we have more information, we will adjust our planning accordingly.”

Earlier in August,

the British Columbia government decided to delay the start of their school year

in order to better orient students and teachers to classroom changes.

Carla Davidson, spokesperson for the Project Safe September parents’ advocacy group, said a delay to the school year could aid in decision-making for parents still on the fence about whether or not to send their children to school.

“Think at this point, parents would welcome that,” Davidson said. “There’s still so much uncertainly about what this school year is going to look like. Individual school plans haven’t been released. From my perspective. making a decision about whether my daughter goes to school or not hinges on what that experience is going to look like.”

Davidson said she couldn’t speak to whether the schools would be able to use the additional week to better prepare, but said parents will need more than a seven-day delay to feel comfortable about the school year. 

She said she wanted to see what class sizes and classroom layouts would look like to ensure physical distancing is maintained within class cohorts.

“What you really need to see in a situation like this, if you want success in a complex project, is time, resources and a clear scope,” she said. “What we end up here with the province’s plan is an unclear scope with very short timelines that just isn’t funded enough.”

In addition to a delay start to the school year, Schilling said he also raised topics including creating better classroom ventilation and reducing class sizes with LaGrange.

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Twitter: @jasonfherring

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