Move to online learning for Alberta students gets mixed reaction

The head of a provincial public school advocacy group says the government of Alberta is not doing enough to support youth during the pandemic, but officials at Calgary's largest school divisions are on board with the plan.

Medeana Moussa of Support Our Students disappointed that casinos remain in-person while schools move online

A new set of measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 was introduced by the Alberta government on Tuesday, including a plan to revert to remote learning for kids in Grades 7-12 while younger students stay in class until the Christmas break. (Mike Symington/CBC)

The head of a provincial public school advocacy group says the Government of Alberta is not doing enough to support youth during the COVID-19 pandemic, but officials at Calgary's largest school divisions are on board with the plan.

Starting next week, junior and senior high school students across Alberta will be moved temporarily to online learning, Premier Jason Kenney announced Tuesday as part of a new set of restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.

Beginning Nov. 30, all students in Grades 7-12 will immediately move to online learning until they begin their winter break. 

Grades K-6 will continue in-person learning until their scheduled winter break (generally Dec. 18).

Online classes for students begin Jan. 4, after the regular two-week break.

In-person learning for all students resumes Jan. 11.

Medeana Moussa, the executive director of Support Our Students, says parents she's spoken to are disappointed schools are being closed.

Instead, they'd like to have seen them stay open with more spacing and contract tracing in place.

"The parents that we've spoken to feel that instead of youth being supported and prioritized, other parts of our society are being prioritized. I've heard many parents disenchanted that casinos remain in-person while schools are moving online," she said.

"In the next six weeks while junior high and senior high schools are closed, will there be investment? Will there be action from the government to make sure there are better safety measures in place so we are not back to online learning in spring?"

However, Bryan Szumlas, the chief superintendent of the Calgary Catholic School District, says the province is on the right course.

"No one has a crystal ball to say what if we did that, what if we do that, who knows what the answer will be? The reality is we are where we are now and we're doing the best we can each and every day," he said.

"I want to keep kids in schools more than anyone because I know having our students in school is best for their wellness, their mental, physical, emotional, social wellness. And so let's work hard together to get our kids back in school."

Szumlas added that the week when school resumes online in January is not a holiday, and that the expectation is that students are to be learning online for those days.

Calgary Board of Education chair Marilyn Dennis says public schools are ready and able to make the transition.

"We did learn a lot this spring about how to support families and students online. And so we are confident that transitioning our Grades 7 to 12 students will be reasonably seamless," she said.

"We know that it's not an ideal situation for all learners, but we also know that it's really important that learning continues and it's also an expectation of the province. So when the province announced the re-entry scenarios, they made it clear to boards that we needed to be prepared to transition from one scenario to the other relatively quickly."

Students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 will all resume in-person classes on Jan 11.

With files from Colleen Underwood


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