Edmonton

Wood Buffalo school divisions support move to extend online learning

School officials in Wood Buffalo support the Alberta government’s decision to keep their students learning online from home next week. 

Wood Buffalo is only part of the province learning at home until May 31

K-12 students in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo will learn online for at least one additional week, the government announced Wednesday. (Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images)

School officials in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo say they are in full support of the Alberta government's decision to keep their students learning online until at least the end of the month. 

Most students in the province may return to in-person classes next week except schools in Wood Buffalo, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced Wednesday. 

George McGuigan, superintendent of the Fort McMurray Catholic Schools, said the extra week gives the community a reprieve amid the high number of COVID-19 cases. 

"We are trending in the right direction right now, which is excellent news, but we still have a ways to go." 

Fort McMurray and Wood Buffalo currently have the second and third highest active case rates in the province. Fort McMurray has an active case rate of 1596.6 per 100,000 people while the rural areas of Wood Buffalo are at 1355.3 per 100,000. By comparison, the City of Edmonton is sitting at 323.2 per 100,000.

When the government announced earlier this month that all students would stay home to learn, it was positive news for the community, McGuigan said in an interview Wednesday.

Learning online has worked out fairly well, he added. 

"It's not the best — we all want our students to be in school, definitely, but for our community right now, I think it was the best thing to do," McGuigan said. "That extra week I think is going to make a huge difference for us when we do return on [May] the 31st."

The Fort McMurray Public School Division also supports the minister's decision, said Superintendent Jennifer Turner.

"We are very pleased that the minister has listened to our advocacy for an early decision prior to the long weekend and has also recognized that the infection rate in our community remains too high," Turner said in an emailed statement. 

The Northland School Division in rural Wood Buffalo is also in favour of keeping students home for an additional week.

"Northland School Division will continue to focus on student and staff well-being during a time where continuity of learning and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and previous wildfires is paramount," Superintendent Nancy Spencer-Poitras said in a  statement. 

Spread beyond schools

Alesha Grant, mother of two girls aged 7 and 10, said her kids have been doing their schoolwork at the YMCA daycare centre in Eagle Ridge since the province announced the change in early May. 

She said both parents have to leave the house to do their jobs, so her children can't be left alone at home. 

"It's so hard with being a public health nurse — of course I understand the importance of them being at home and trying to flatten the curve that way," Grant said. "At the same time, there's much more consistency and ease with learning when they're at school." 

She's also not convinced keeping students away from schools will stop spread of the virus.

"There's also huge spread in the worksites that are out of town," Grant said. "I guess it will help some but I don't think our numbers are going to drop drastically just because of school."

Grant says she is confident that schools are doing a good job at following guidelines. 

With decisions made week-by-week it's a struggle for families to plan, Grant said.

LaGrange said at Wednesday's news conference she is hopeful students will soon return to class for the remainder of the year. McGuigan agrees with LaGrange's assessment and is hopeful students will return to class soon, while Grant said she's expecting students in Fort McMurray may be home for the rest of the school year. 

@natashariebe

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