Division News Article

New provincial public health measures for schools

September 16th, 2021

On September 15, 2021 Alberta government officials declared a state of public health emergency, with new measures taking effect on September 16, 2021. Schools have been included in these new measures. The actual orders for schools are being drafted and will be out to schools in due time.  

For all of the information about temporary measures, please review the details on the Alberta government webpage:  COVID-19 public health actions

Thank you for understanding that PHSD staff is making adjustments as quickly as possible using the information with which we’ve been provided. Thank you for your patience and understanding as we all adapt to the new conditions.

Vaccinations

The Premier and the Chief Medical Officer of Health emphasized the data about the rates of infection, serious illness, and death of unvaccinated Albertans vs those who are vaccinated. The effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines is clear: vaccinated people have 95% less chance of developing the disease compared to unvaccinated people. 

For more information on the effectiveness and safety of vaccination consider the information at these sites.  

We strongly recommend that anyone who is eligible and capable of being vaccinated, does so. 

Alberta Health Services has asked school systems to distribute consent forms for parents of students aged 12 and up and who may want to be vaccinated. If there is enough demand, AHS will set up a vaccination clinic in our schools.  For details see:  Alberta Health 2021-2022 School Immunization

What public health measures have been added for schools?

Masks are now mandatory for all students in Grades 4 and up, plus the staff in all grades. The masking order is under development. In the meantime here’s what we know and expect:

  • Masks remain mandatory for all children and students over the age of 2 when they are on school buses.
  • Anyone unable to wear a mask due to a medical condition will require a medical exception letter from an authorized health professional.
    • Parents must be able to present the letter if asked.
    • The medical exception letter template can be found on the COVID-19: Mask requirements page of the government website.
    • This is the only form of exception letter that will be accepted.
  • Students and staff will be allowed to remove their masks when they are eating or drinking, and when they are seated and working independently in classrooms.
  • Teachers may remove their masks if they are physically distancing themselves from their class by a minimum of 2 meters.
  • Provincial health measures state that “Schools that implement an alternate COVID safety plan can be exempted from mandatory masking.”
    • While the guidance for this exemption is still being created, we have been told that a plan must define how students and staff will remain 2 metres apart at all times.
    • PHSD administration have not identified any situations where this physical distancing is possible. Therefore we cannot apply for this exemption.

Elementary grades (Kindergarten to Grade 6) will need to implement class cohorting. 

  • This means that indoor interaction between kindergarten to Grade 6 class groups will be infrequent or not at all. Activities like buddy-reading when the buddy is from another class or grade, are therefore suspended.
  • For the most part, our elementary classroom groups (cohorts) do not need to mingle.
  • In the days to come, elementary schools will develop schedules to manage transitions at recess and breaks thus limiting congestion indoors.
  • Schools will attempt to maintain cohorts through intramural programs while balancing the needs of students for play and positive interactions that occur during intramurals.
  • AHS has told us that the best practice at recess would be to keep students in their cohorts. When this is not viable or healthy, schools will emphasize and encourage the use of masks and physical distancing.
  • Choirs and music classes can continue with established preventative measures that limit risk of transmission.
  • Classes can go on field trips with their class cohort.

Junior and Senior High do not need to maintain cohort groups. 

  • Schools will continue to monitor conditions that require students to be in different groups and will try to limit unnecessary crossover and large groups.
  • Junior and senior high can participate in field trips.

Indoor sports and performances can continue (applies to both upper elementary and junior and senior high).

  • Teams can continue to practice and attend games against other schools
  • Participants are required to screen for symptoms, maintain 2 metres distance except when engaged in physical activity and wear a mask except when engaged in a physical activity.
  • The list of health measures includes a statement that spectator attendance will be restricted to ⅓ of the fire code capacity occupancy.
    • School principals have assessed the spaces in their schools and have concluded that when the space used by the court(s), the number of players and coaching staff, and the need to maintain 2 meters between non-participants is considered, we cannot include spectators and still achieve the conditions described by the public health measures.
    • Therefore, for the safety and well-being of our student athletes, we will restrict attendance at school sporting events to the players and adults connected with the teams.
    • No additional spectators will be permitted. 
  • Other performances and celebrations may be shifted online or if held in person, will include the standard expectations for masking, physical distancing and daily health checks.

Will parents and staff be able to meet face-to-face?

  • Meetings about students and learning and Professional Development events and meetings are not social gatherings. They are essential to the effective functioning of our learning communities.
  • Meetings with parents, teachers and support staff that are important for creating plans or setting goals that benefit students can continue.
  • School Council meetings can be held in the school.
  • We will maintain our schedule for professional development sessions.
  • Participants at meetings and professional development sessions must follow the general guidance provided. (General guidance for COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses)
    • When possible and when it does not impede effectiveness, meetings and PD events can be held virtually.
    • When in person meetings or events are more effective, groups must not exceed ⅓ fire code capacity, attendees must maintain 2 metre physical distance, and wear masks.

What if parents want to move their children to learning at home?

  • PHSD provides at-home learning programs for Grade 1-12 students through Vista Virtual School.
  • The published online registration deadline is fast approaching: September 17, 2021
  • We will consider shifting students who have already registered in a PHSD school to Vista Virtual School on an individual, case-by-case basis. If this is something you want to pursue, please communicate with your school principal.
  • We are able to adjust the deadlines to transfer to at-home learning for PHSD students:
    • The Grade 1-9 deadline is September 30
    • The Grade 10-12 deadline is September 24
    • Grade 10-12 students may also choose to shift from one environment to the other in time for the second semester.
  • After these dates, transfers between at-home learning and in-person learning will only be authorized after the situation has been reviewed by the Director of Student Services.
  • To be clear, after September 30th, students will be expected to remain with the school where they are registered.

When and how parents will be informed of positive COVID cases in schools

At this time, schools are not involved in any contact tracing processes when a student or staff member tests positive with COVID-19. Alberta Health Services has been asking the client who tested positive, or the client’s parents, to inform others who might have been in recent close contact.  

When a parent informs the school about a child who has tested positive: 

  • The school will not ask parents if they want the school to inform others.
  • The request to inform others must be voluntarily offered by parents.
  • When parents make this request, the schools will send parents of the class a brief message stating that someone in the class has tested positive and to monitor personal health and symptoms.

This process is intended to respect parents’ and students’ right to privacy.  

There is currently no quarantine imposed on those who have been in close contact with a positive case. They are being asked to monitor their health and use the Self-Assessment tool if symptoms arise. This will direct them to be tested if needed.  

Thank you for continuing to refer to the Alberta Health daily checklist before coming to the school or sending your children to school.