Edmonton Public Faculties desires COVID-19 readability on what occurs after the holiday

Edmonton Public Schools says it would like more information on what the Alberta government has planned for students when they end a winter vacation break that has been extended due to a surge in COVID-19 infections.

School board chair Trisha Estabrooks says while the extension to resume classes on Jan. 10 is a relief for some parents and educators, other parents juggling work and their families have a harder time .

“Although we’ve all been through this global pandemic for almost two years, I think it’s very tough, especially for families with young children,” Estabrooks said during a press conference on Friday.

“I hear from parents who are struggling … so the decision not to bring children back to school is a big one and a heavy one. Any kind of extension of the winter break has a significant impact on many families, especially families living in poverty, for example.

“(So) the sooner we have clarity, the better.”

Edmonton Public Schools is Alberta’s second largest school district with more than 105,000 students.

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced the extension of the vacation late Thursday, just days before students return to school.

LaGrange said the government made the decision because the highly contagious variant of Omicron posed an additional risk to health and resources. The province reported a record number of daily COVID-19 cases this week, including preliminary numbers of 4,000 infections on Thursday.

The government has said school authorities can use the extended break to prepare for potential on-site and at-home learning scenarios, as they did earlier in the pandemic.

Estabrooks said the extra time will help schools and teachers prepare for government decisions. She said parents would like more information soon, especially if that includes the ability for students to return to online learning.

“The decision to put all classes online rests with the provincial government,” said Estabrooks.

“I know some parents I spoke to earlier have concerns about going back to online learning and there is some stress and I know there are a lot of strangers at this point.”

Estabrooks said they are also waiting for more information on the government’s decision to distribute 8.6 million rapid tests and 16.5 million masks to schools across the province as of the week of January 10.

She said the school district wanted to know how the personal protective equipment was delivered and how the results of the rapid tests were reported.

“I would like to have reassurance that the rapid test kits and masks will be in place when the students return to school,” she said. “That would strongly suggest to parents that there are additional measures.”

Estabrooks said the district will need good clear data from Alberta Health Services and some reassurance about the contact notification process for positive COVID-19 tests.

Jason Schilling, president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, said the extended vacation was the “right call”.

“Omicron is a turning point and health and safety practices in schools need to be adjusted – schools need time to prepare,” he said in a press release.

“We recognize that this abrupt change is challenging for parents and families, and their support and flexibility are valued.”

Schilling said the association had not been consulted by the government prior to the decision.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on December 31, 2021.

This story was produced with financial support from Facebook and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Fakiha Baig, the Canadian press

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