Edmonton·Video

Mask requirements to remain in place for Edmonton's public, Catholic schools

Edmonton's two largest school boards have released their plans detailing how they will adapt to yet another school year during the COVID-19 pandemic.

School boards released their return-to-class plans for fall Monday

Edmonton schools prep their COVID-19 plans for September

2 months ago
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As parents and students prepare for back-to-school, Edmonton’s two school board chairs remain grateful for one thing: they have the power to make their own COVID-19 protocols. 0:57

Students in Edmonton's public and Catholic schools must isolate and go home if they are sick. Pupils and staff must screen themselves daily for potential symptoms of COVID-19.

And many students will be grouped into cohorts for another year, whenever it's practicable.

These are some of the measures both Catholic and public school divisions intend to use this school year, according to plans released Monday on how they will adapt to yet another school year during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Leaders at both divisions say they're trying to bring back as many activities as possible, as safely as possible.

Edmonton Catholic School board chair Sandra Palazzo said that although parents are concerned about their children's health and safety, they're also worried about their learning.

"Many of our parents have shared and emphasized that they value the importance of a typical school day prior to COVID," she told reporters Monday.

Returning to Catholic schools this year are field trips within the province, athletics and extracurricular activities, optional classes, assemblies and graduation celebrations.

Edmonton Public Schools' plan, which includes more detail, says students can sing again — with masks on — and play wind instruments. Some field trips can resume, and libraries and labs can re-open. However, any room in public schools will need to be cleaned every time a different group of students uses it.

Like last school year, the masking rules are different in each division. The provincial government has removed masking requirements in schools, except on school buses and transit until Sept. 27.

Both large Edmonton school divisions have masking requirements that go further, maintaining rules from the previous year.

Edmonton Public Schools requires all staff, as well as students in pre-kindergarten to Grade 12 who are developmentally able, to wear a mask.

Grade 4 to 12 students at Catholic schools must wear masks in common areas such as hallways, but can take them off in classrooms — although the division strongly recommends they keep them on. Masks are recommended, but not required, for younger students.

Edmonton public superintendent Darrel Robertson said he hopes his division's masking requirements will allow students to participate in more activities with fewer concerns about getting sick.

"There is no foolproof, safe process in a global pandemic," he said. "We will still have cases of COVID in our schools. But we feel that school operations during the day with these added measures, we can keep people as safe as possible."

COVID-19 notification process varies

How the school divisions will handle cases they become aware of also differs.

Many parents and educators are concerned about the province's move to cease contact tracing in all but high-risk environments. This school year, schools and Alberta Health Services have no obligation to share information about positive cases.

Robertson said in public schools, if a family or staff member notifies them of an AHS lab-confirmed case of COVID-19, a letter will go home to families in the affected classes.

In Catholic schools, deputy superintendent Tim Cusack said schools will evaluate the need for notices on a case-by-case basis, with the advice of health authorities.

Many decisions will be left to individual schools' administrators. This could include choices like staggering recesses or bell times to keep students distant, or allowing access to the playground.

Students in both divisions have until Thursday to choose between online and in-person learning.

Of students that have responded so far, about five per cent of public students and 2.5 per cent of Catholic students have chosen online learning for the coming semester — a far smaller proportion than last year.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Janet French is a provincial affairs reporter with CBC Edmonton. She has also worked at the Edmonton Journal and Saskatoon StarPhoenix. You can reach her at janet.french@cbc.ca

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