School principals are scrambling to make last-minute plans for individual kindergarten to Grade 12 classrooms, setting up protocols for physical distancing, enhanced cleaning and cohorts with similar lunch and recess schedules.
But many questions remain unanswered as both the Calgary Board of Education and the Calgary Catholic School District wait for families to
by their respective Aug. 24 and Aug. 21 deadlines.
With recent changes to masking protocols, no word yet on class sizes, and continued uncertainty around staffing and substitute teachers, stress and anxiety are building among staff and parents as reopening looms in less than two weeks.
“A lot of principals are in schools already, looking at what they’re having to do, planning for their classes, setting up for physical distancing,” said Bob Cocking, president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association Local 38 representing Calgary Public Teachers.
“But a lot of it has to be done on the fly as small bits of information trickle in from the school board. Usually you can figure things out in the spring, when you know who’s coming back. But now we are looking at just a few days to finalize plans.
“And that’s very worrisome for schools. There are still so many questions.”
Officials with the Catholic school district have estimated over 3,000 students have “shown interest” for online learning, but would not say how that will impact class sizes.
“We won’t have final numbers until later this fall, but as of right now we have more than 3,000 students interested in the online learning option,” said spokeswoman Sandra Borowski.
The CBE said it won’t provide estimates on online registration numbers until after school starts.
Earlier this month, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, mandated masks for teachers and students in grades 4-12 where physical distancing was not possible.
But last Friday, both Calgary school districts added to that protocol,
as an increasing number of parents raised concerns with the province’s plans.
Alberta Education has also awarded a $4.2-million contract to Old Navy and IFR Workwear to distribute 1.7 million reusable, cloth masks for students and staff.
But Cocking said concerns are already being raised about the quality of the masks, with teachers complaining they do not fit properly and leave wide gaps at the sides exposing the nose and mouth.
Principals are also being asked to focus on cohorts, saying that schools are being encouraged to keep the same group of students together in class and during lunch and recess.
But Alberta Health has not addressed how junior high and senior high populations should handle cohorting, particularly grades 10-12 when students are traditionally registered in four different courses, with four different teachers and different groups of students.
Hinshaw admitted Tuesday that some high schools could be challenged trying to cohort students, and asked individual schools to reach out to the province for help.
“We don’t want to micro-manage individual decisions based on a local context,” Hinshaw said at Tuesday’s daily COVID-19 update.
“But if individual schools are struggling, I’d recommend they speak to the Ministry of Education, and we can try and look for some solutions.
“If they’re not able to implement cohorts, and distancing or masking is not sufficient, I’d be happy to have a conversation with them.”
Hinshaw also reminded all of the province’s 90,000 K-12 teachers to get asymptomatic testing, now being
, before school begins.
Questions are also being raised around
, whether there will be enough to replace teachers who may be symptomatic, who test positive for COVID-19, or who may be forced to quarantine for 14 days if they are exposed to someone with COVID-19.
Both school boards say they have hired extra staff in case of increased illness.
“In the event of increased absence by teachers due to COVID-19, we are increasing the number of teachers on our sub roster by approximately 33 per cent from 1,200 to 1,600,” said CBE spokeswoman Joanne Anderson.
“In addition, in any year, some substitute teachers are not able to work as many hours as they would like, so there is some excess capacity within the roster.”
But school districts have not yet decided whether substitute teachers will still move around several different schools as they do traditionally, or whether they will be mandated to remain at one school to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 to different buildings.
The CBE said families choosing to send their kids back to in-person classes should plan for a Sept. 1 start, while the CCSD is scheduled the start the following day, Sept. 2.
Many schools, however, are expected to schedule staggered entries based on different grades.
But teachers are still looking to push back those dates, allowing principals and other staff more time to plan for a safer re-entry.
Jason Schilling, president of the ATA, is set to
to outline teachers’ concerns.
Schilling has said the government has ignored teachers and hasn’t met with the ATA since mid-June.
“Teachers are worried and they do not have confidence in the minister or her plans to reopen schools. They made it clear they expect the minster to be talking with the ATA and listening genuinely to the concerns of others.”
Cocking added that while school staff face their own stresses, their main focus will have to be to reduce fear and stress among students, especially as they enter an environment where everyone will have faces and expressions covered by masks.
“It will have to be our job to take kids’ anxiety away, to teach them that instead of being afraid of COVID, we have to respect it. We have to teach kids we are doing all these things to keep everyone safe and healthy.”
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