Most Edmonton Public Schools students choose to go back to the classroom in September

Close to 64,000 Edmonton Public Schools students will return to the classroom when school resumes in Alberta next month. 

70.4 per cent of all enrolled students opt for in-class learning starting Sept. 3

The majority of students in Edmonton-area schools are opting for in-person learning this fall. (Oksana Kuzmina/stock.adobe.com)

Close to 64,000 Edmonton Public Schools students will return to the classroom when school resumes in Alberta next month. 

That equates to about 70 per cent of all enrolled students opting for in-class learning starting Sept. 3, Kathy Muhlethaler, Edmonton Public Schools assistant superintendent of schools and learning services, told CBC News. 

The remaining students — approximately 26,000 or so — have opted for online classes.

"When we worked out the number of how many of our students are online, it works out that we could be like the fifth-largest school division, just based on our online numbers, in Alberta," Muhlethaler said.

"I mean, when you're looking at over 26,000 wanting online, that's a pretty significant number." 

Those numbers, however, are subject to change as schools contact families who have not yet made their choice. About 10 per cent of families have yet to indicate their preference.

"I actually, to be honest, am really excited about it. I'm excited about the fact that we're able to give parents choice," Muhlethaler said.

"Our continuity of instruction will continue based on the excellent work that our consultants and teachers have done over the summer."   

The Edmonton Catholic school Division says it's waiting on survey results before releasing numbers of students opting to learn in-person versus online.

All grade levels in the Catholic system return on Sept. 2, with teachers of kindergarten through Grade 9 students taking Sept. 4 as a service day. 

Meanwhile, some Alberta school divisions are delaying the first day back to school to give teachers and staff more time to adjust to new schedules and health measures. 

The first days back in class are "going to be something like we've never seen before," Jason Schilling, president of the Alberta Teachers' Association, said Wednesday on CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"My first day of school as a teacher would be just talking with my students about how they are doing — they've been out of school for such a long time, it comes with all sorts of emotions — and just talking about the anxiety and addressing it and then working together to make sure that we're keeping each other safe through the course of the day."

The Black Gold School Division, south of Edmonton, is asking students to return to classes on Sept. 8-10, delayed from the original date of Sept. 1.

The board of trustees agreed at a meeting Monday to delay the first day.

Board chair Devonna Klaassen said staff need more time to prepare for a safe return to school. 

"We are hearing and seeing the anxiety levels of our principals and our staff, and we are very, very well aware of anxiety being one of those things that has a ripple effect."

Klaassen said the board anticipates students will have anxiety levels as well. 

"Which sinks can be used, which sinks are out of order, water fountains, directional arrows, access to certain classrooms, all of those health protocols, and masks."

The district includes more than 11,000 students in 29 schools in Beaumont, Calmar, Leduc, Leduc County, Devon, Thorsby and Warburg. 

About 1,400 students have opted for learning online, at least for the first half of the school year, which runs until February. 

Klaassen said a lot of staff may be looking at new roles and the district is setting up a whole new school for online learning. 

"Basically we're creating a brand new school that is now the largest school in the division and now we have to staff it — and we're staffing it from the existing schools," Klaassen explained. 

The Peace River School Division has pushed back its first day to Sept. 8 as well, it announced in a news release Tuesday. 

The division said the delay will give staff more time to become familiar with new safety protocols. 

It will also give the division more time to plan for at-home learning and ensure the necessary cleaning and safety supplies are in place.

"PRSD also currently awaits the delivery of hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment (masks, face shields and thermometers) from the Alberta government," it said in the statement.

The Parkland School Division is inviting students back in a staggered approach from Aug. 31 to Sept. 2, when the division will cover protocols and health measures for students returning in person. 

It, too, will start instruction for virtual classes on Sept. 8. 

At St. Albert Public Schools, between 10 and 15 per cent of its 8,500 students are expected to engage in online classes. 

Paula Power, communications manager, said the division will be starting classes for online students on Sept. 8.

"We just need a bit more time to kind of get everything set up and ready to roll," Power said Tuesday. "It's almost like we're setting up another school, basically."

St. Albert Public is also giving parents the option to change their minds but would like a final response by Sept. 9. 

The school year will be divided into quarters when at the end of each one, parents can choose to switch between in-person and online classes. 


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