January 15th, 2021

School closures and COVID-19

By Submitted Article on March 18, 2020.

It has been one week since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. A lot has happened since then. The situation is unprecedented and fluid, and we are fortunate to have Alberta’s Chief Medical Health Officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, guiding the provincial response. In co-operation with Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, Dr. Hinshaw met with Alberta superintendents, school boards and other stakeholders on March 14, via teleconference to provide direction and answer questions regarding elementary and secondary schools’ response to COVID-19.

I found this meeting reassuring and extremely helpful in answering many of the questions Albertans had concerning the operation of schools during this time. I was grateful that the Ministry of Education as well as Dr. Hinshaw were receptive to hear more from school boards and superintendents regarding the logistical impact of the practice of zero tolerance for ill students and staff.

Although Alberta had put in place many aggressive measures to try to prevent the spread of, or at least “flatten the curve,” of COVID-19, many Albertans were left wondering why schools were initially to remain open in our province. As you can imagine, the decision to keep schools open or closed is complex. In order for school closures to be effective, Dr. Hinshaw suggested that school closures would be in place for months rather than weeks. On March 15, information regarding the nature and scope of the spread of COVID-19 in Alberta changed such that Dr. Hinshaw announced a stoppage of all regular operation of daycares, playschools and K-12 schools which would take place immediately. For the time being, K-12 schools remain open to healthy staff; however, classes are cancelled.

Seventy-four per cent of children in Alberta do not have a stay-at-home parent/guardian. Schools play a critical role in the provincial response to public health issues as medical experts balanced public health risks with actions that significantly impact society as a whole. When classes are cancelled, parents/guardians who do not have regular childcare in place may be forced to stay home from work. If parents are home, who is handling the hospitals, grocery stores, pharmacies, utility companies and the host of other venues that we as a society depend on? For parents/guardians who have no choice but to work, who will care for their children? How are the almost 750,000 K-12 students in our province going to receive their education?

These are very real problems that we are facing currently in our province. The decision to cancel classes was not entered into lightly given the difficulties that will inevitably arise; however, the health and safety of Albertans is of paramount importance. Over the next several days, school divisions will review how education can still be delivered to students who are not physically in the building. Many online platforms and virtual strategies exist and will be used in the continuing education of our children but other options will need to be explored for those without internet or devices.

I have the highest respect and appreciation for all our professionals who spend hours each day teaching, supporting and caring for our children. I have full confidence that Alberta’s professional educators will continue to be collaborative, creative and innovative as they do all they can to make the best of education in these challenging times.

Darryl Seguin is Superintendent of Livingstone Range School Division

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