Calgary

CBE re-entry plan includes 'short-term' online learning option, recommends wearing masks

The Calgary Board of Education has released its guidelines for re-entry this fall and says short-term online learning  will be offered for Grades 1-12 for families who aren't comfortable with sending their children back to school during the ongoing pandemic.

Students with symptoms of cold, flu or COVID-19 will be asked to isolate for 10 days

The CBE said it's recommending masks for students and staff in school and on buses, but this will not be mandatory. (Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images)

The Calgary Board of Education has released its guidelines for re-entry this fall and says short-term online learning will be offered for Grades 1 through 12 for families who aren't comfortable with sending their children back to school during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The board is calling the service a "hub online learning approach" and said it's a combination of instruction and independent work — requiring a "significant commitment" from students and their parents. And the board warns it won't be easy.

"It will not offer the same opportunities or supports as in-person learning. To be successful, this type of learning requires committed parent involvement and assistance," reads the letter. "Unlike emergency at-home learning that took place in the spring of 2020, hub online learning requires students to participate full time in their learning and to meet the outcomes in the Alberta Programs of Study."

The board said information about registration will be released in late August, but once a student has registered for this type of learning, there will be only one time during the school year (Feb. 1, 2021) when they will be allowed to transition back to in-person learning.

Guidelines for in-person learning

For families who choose to send their children back under Scenario 1 for in-person learning at the CBE in September, the board has released more detailed guidelines.

The board said these guidelines are not set in stone, though, and they're subject to change as more information becomes available from the province.

"While the CBE will begin the year in Scenario 1, it is possible that we may have to transition between scenarios during the school year," reads the plan online.

"Health officials will work with school authorities to make the decision to transition to partial in-class learning or at-home learning based on multiple factors including the number of COVID-19 cases in a zone or a school and the risk of ongoing transmission."

The board's guidelines say that if any cases of COVID-19 that are identified at schools, the AHS zone medical officer of health will work directly with the impacted school's administration and with the district to give recommendations and messaging to staff, parents and students.

"The decision to send a cohort/class home or to close a school will be made by the local medical officer of health. If students are required to self-isolate, the school will support students to learn or work at home," said the board.

Board recommends masks for students and staff

And when it comes to masks, the CBE said it's recommending masks for students and staff in school and on buses, but they are not mandatory.

"At this time, our position is aligned with the advice we've received and that is to encourage students or staff to wear masks, especially in situations where physical distancing is not always possible," said Chris Usih chief superintendent of schools.

"We continue to monitor and that if there are changes that arise as a result of new information, we're prepared to make that change."

The only time it will be mandatory for a student to wear at mask at school is if they get sick. The student would then be provided a disposable mask to wear until they can be picked up.

Usih said teachers and staff will be provided two reusable masks by the board at the beginning of the school year. 

"That's to get them started," he said. "We've also communicated to all our staff that they're welcome to try to bring their own as well if they wish."

"Students or staff who take Calgary Transit to school or work must wear masks while on buses or CTrains," said the CBE. "The City of Calgary announced July 21 that masks will be mandatory on public transit effective Aug. 1, 2020.

Sick policy: Stay at home

The plan also details the board's stay-at-home policy for those who are sick.

"If students or staff are ill with any common cold, influenza or COVID-19-like symptoms, they must stay home and either isolate for 10 calendar days following onset of symptoms or until symptoms resolve, whichever is longer," said the board.

"Students and employees must stay home until they have been assessed by a health-care provider to exclude COVID-19 or other infectious diseases and their symptoms have resolved."

Joanne Pitman, CBE superintendent of school improvement, said that if a student is well enough to continue their learning while isolating for 10 days, it will be possible.

"We already provide supports for them to continue their learning, but it won't be a direct live feed into the classroom," she said. "There are other independent activities and supported direction and resources that will be provided."

The CBE said that when a student arrives to school and is either showing signs, or starts to show signs of illness, they will be moved to designated spaces in their schools. When in use, the room will have a sign posted outside that says: "Infirmary, Do Not Enter." 

"Parents and caregivers will be notified and advised to pick up their child immediately, within one hour," said the CBE, adding that an emergency contact must also be designated for each student in the event parents aren't able to pick up their child.

The infirmary rooms will have strict cleaning and disinfecting policies, and enhanced measures will be used if an individual who used the room tests positive for COVID. 

In the classroom

The board acknowledges that physical distancing will be challenging in K-12 setups, particularly at the younger grade levels. Because of this, the CBE said there will be different expectations for different age groups and activities.

"For example, younger students should be supported to have minimized physical contact with one another, while older students and adults should seek to maintain a safe physical distance whenever possible."

When it can be accommodated, the CBE said students will be organized into smaller cohorts and will stay together all day. The number of teachers and staff that see each cohort in a day will be minimized, seating plans will be established and lunch, breaks and recess will be staggered. 

Pitman said that while cohorting is certainly possible in earlier grades, by high school it is much more difficult. 

"Our students are actually taking a range of classes based on their high school schedule, and so with that what becomes really important is that all of our students will have to have a seating plan," she said. 

"We will need to make sure that everything is structured in terms of where a student has a spare class they will not be able to be free flowing throughout the building. There will be many more restrictions necessary and those are best set out by the school based on the access to space that they do have."

Schools will likely utilize outdoor learning spaces more frequently, seating from "gathering areas" will be removed, and barriers or partitions might be placed between students. Classrooms will be "decluttered of all non-essential items" to make cleaning easier, and desks will be two-metres apart as well as organized around the perimeter of the room when possible.

Students will be asked not to share food or supplies and to ensure that they come every day with the appropriate utensils and schools supplies.

The CBE's plan also details handwashing and sanitizing practices for staff and students, increased cleaning schedules and policies, and the province's daily screening checklist, which must be done by all staff, students and any adult who will enter a school that day.

Field trips, food services and extra-curriculars

Traditional field trips requiring transportation will not be happening this fall. 

"Walking field trips can proceed as long as schools are able to ensure that guidelines for physical distancing, eating, equipment sharing, and handwashing can be adhered to," said the CBE.

"In regards to overnight B, C and D trips: Tentative bookings can occur for activities to take place after April 1, 2021. Until further notice, there can be no financial commitment made."

Extra-curriculars are still a go — but not for everyone.

"Learning experiences involving unprotected (without a mask or physical barrier) in-person singing, cheering, shouting or playing wind instruments must be postponed at this time," said the board.

Other things like outdoor activities and sports practices can happen if they follow sector-specific guidance, while rehearsals and instruction for dance, music and theatre can continue if they follow guidance for live music, dance and theatre.

In-person assemblies and large gatherings are to be avoided.

Riding the yellow school bus

The CBE said bus ridership will be capped at 48 riders. Students will all have assigned seats, and members of the same household will sit together, and students will start loading from the back seats to the front of the bus. 

Parents will be asked to assess their kids every day for possible COVID-19, flu and cold symptoms before sending them on the bus.

"If a student displays symptoms while on the school bus, the driver should attempt to isolate the student at the front of the bus and inform the school upon arrival. Parents/guardians will then be contacted to pick up their child," said the board.

Only registered bus riders will be allowed to board school buses. 

Reactions to new plan

Tara Scott, a parent with kids in CBE schools, said she feels frustrated about the board-specific policies.

"It didn't feel particularly complete. The word 'possible' came up so often — 'where possible,' 'if possible' — that I actually feel like I have no idea what we would be walking into if we opt for our kids to go in for in-school learning," Scott said.

Scott said she hasn't yet decided what's best for her family, but said she is in favour of masks in schools. 

"I get that the school board is doing its best. They weren't given a lot to work with," Scott said. "They weren't given any additional budget to actually work with, and so they have to decide, like, 'Are we really going to delay capital projects so that we can deliver a more safe experience?'

"But it just it doesn't feel like anybody is going to win here and it doesn't feel like there is any real leadership coming from anyone."

Alberta Teachers' Association president Jason Schilling said teachers remained concerned about what the situation will look like in schools.

"Seeing the plans today addressed that a little bit, but teachers still have more questions about what exactly that will look like and how that will play out in terms of the classrooms, and how they will move about in their schools," Schilling said. "Calgary has a well-documented class size problem, even before the pandemic."

One CBE teacher, who CBC News agreed to identify only by his first name as he fears retribution for speaking publicly, said he has concerns about fitting around 35 students in a room during the pandemic.

"We have students that can't wear masks or won't wear masks and they're sitting close together and talking to each other," said Jason, who teaches high school. "That's a huge petri dish for disease."

About the Author

Lucie Edwardson

Journalist

Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary, currently focused on bringing you stories related to education in Alberta. In 2018 she headed a pop-up bureau in Lethbridge, Alta. Her experience includes newspaper, online, TV and radio. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson

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