Calgary

Calgary parents, teachers react as province cancels K-12 classes indefinitely

The sudden closure of K-12 schools and child-care facilities across Alberta due to the coronavirus pandemic has left parents and teachers wondering how to cope.

'I have no idea what to expect,' says one mom

Classes at K-12 schools across Alberta have been cancelled in response to the coronavirus pandemic. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

The sudden closure of K-12 schools and child-care facilities across Alberta due to the coronavirus pandemic has left parents and teachers wondering how to cope.

The province announced around 5 p.m. Sunday that all K-12 schools would be closed to students indefinitely, and along with all licensed child-care facilities, out-of-school care programs and preschools.

"I have no idea what to expect," said Calgary parent Lucyna Pielak, who has three children in Grades 5, 6 and 9 — all attending different schools.

We're both just kind of shell shocked…- Lucyna Pielak, parent

She said she's in a "lucky" position, as the children's father is an unemployed oil and gas worker, so child-care is settled. 

But, she said, that doesn't mean she's not struggling with the news.

"We're both just kind of shell shocked and we don't know what it's going to mean long term," she said.

"This is province-wide and I can't even comprehend the scale of that."

Pielak said she's trying to find a middle-ground between panic and composure while speaking with her kids, and said her main priority will be keeping everyone healthy.

As for academically what's next? She doesn't know.

"Are we supposed to start home-schooling our kids? I'm willing to do that, but we don't have the tools…"

Other parents and teachers reacted to the news on social media.

Alberta's education minister said all students will receive final marks and will progress to their next grade level, and Grade 12 students who are eligible to graduate will. 

Provincial assessments like provincial achievement tests will be cancelled, while diploma exams essential for post-secondary acceptance will go ahead.

Alberta's chief medical officer of health said the closures are not just due to community transmission of the illness but also challenges with obtaining necessary products and staffing to keep schools open and safe.

The Calgary Board of Education sent out a release Sunday evening, requesting parents not send students to school on Monday, and stated that before and after school programs and buses are also cancelled.

"Staff will be available at each​​​ school to ensure that, if students show up, parents will be contacted and expected to pick up their child immediately," CBE superintendent Christopher Usih said.

The CBE said it would provide more information about online learning in the coming days.

Teachers will still work

Teachers and other school staff will still be working, either from schools or from home. But spring break will continue as scheduled, so school buildings will be closed during that time.

Bob Cocking, president of ATA Local 38 representing Calgary public school teachers, said clear direction will be needed from Alberta Education going forward as teachers already have questions — like how they will be expected to work with no child care.

He said there's also concern from substitute teachers, who will no longer be required. Some, he said, may not have enough hours to qualify for EI.

"It's been crazy," Cocking said.

"School was going to be out in four days for spring break, so if people can look at it that way, we've started our spring break a little earlier," he said. "But because we don't know the duration of this … it will definitely change the way we approach teaching or learning.

Cocking said he's heard that the Calgary Board of Education will provide alternative learning, likely online, for high school students and possibly junior high as well.

"Teachers are teaching professionals. They will find alternate ways to teach their students," he said.

In-person post-secondary classes across the province have also been cancelled. Campuses will remain open, and many universities and colleges are moving to online lessons.


What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Tiredness.

But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

What should I do if I feel sick?

Isolate yourself and call your local public health authority. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Be aware of evolving travel advisories to different regions.

More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.

Important reminder: The World Health Organization said more than 80 per cent of COVID-19 infections are estimated to be mild.

  • Have you got a news tip tied to the COVID-19 outbreak? You can reach CBC Calgary at calgarynewstips@cbc.ca or CBC Edmonton here

With files from Terri Trembath

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