Division News Article

Province updates guidance for schools

January 10th, 2022

In response to the high transmission rates of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, the province updated guidance for schools. Changes to the following sections are particularly relevant to Pembina Hills Schools and are described with more detail below:

The province continues to encourage vaccination for eligible Albertans as an effective way to reduce the risk of severe illness and to slow the transmission of the virus. Isolation periods for vaccinated individuals with symptoms have been reduced. This should result in reduced absenteeism. Attendance at school is one of the top factors impacting students’ academic success.

For more information on Alberta’s vaccination program see: https://www.alberta.ca/covid19-vaccine.aspx

Schools will be providing parents with information regarding the distribution of masks and free rapid tests soon after schools receive their first shipments.

Daily Health Check

The Daily Health Check is still a critical action that everyone can take to reduce the risk of illness spreading to others in school and at work. The province has updated the Daily Health Check to align with the different requirements for vaccinated and unvaccinated students and staff.

Cohorting (K-6) and Physical Distancing

Although cohorting guidance has remained largely unchanged, the province has added an additional recommendation to limit the number of cohorts to which K-6 teachers belong.

  • Pembina Hills has shifted professional development events for K-6 staff scheduled for January to online. Some smaller group meetings will continue as required to maintain operational effectiveness and or in support of students.
  • Parents and the members of a school support team can still meet in-person for the purposes of planning and or reviewing individualized student programs.

Masks

  • All staff, visitors and volunteers must wear masks when they enter PHSD schools.
  • Masks must continue to be worn on school buses.
  • Students in grades 4-12 must wear masks in all common areas of the school. Although it is now strongly recommended that students keep their masks on at all times, they are allowed to remove masks under certain conditions as listed in the guidance document. Students are expected to abide by the requests of staff to wear their masks.
  • Masks are not mandatory for students in Kindergarten to grade 3. They are however strongly recommended.
  • Provincial guidance regarding the quality of masks has changed. See: https://www.alberta.ca/masks.aspx
  • The province will be distributing medical grade masks to schools. All students will be provided with 20 masks; enough for 2 masks a day for 10 days of school. We expect the first shipments in the next few days and distribution to students will follow shortly after.
  • Conditions for mask exemptions have not changed.

Off-site Activities (Field Trips) and Physical Activity (Extracurricular)

The updated guidance states that off-site activities are not recommended at this time and we are to limit tournaments and inter-school sports.

  • Any field trips during which students from a cohort would mingle with other students or groups will be postponed for the month of January.
  • Where a cohort’s curriculum-connected off-site activity is at a facility where only the facility staff is present, such as skating or swimming, the activity can occur. Additional sector guidance may apply.
  • School extracurricular teams can continue to practice, and we will ask coaches to limit the number of games for the next few weeks. Limiting means ensuring several days between games where possible. Decisions regarding participation in tournaments will be authorized by the school and regional office administration after a review of the conditions.
  • People should be prepared for the possibility of sudden cancellation of games in response to monitoring of the attendance rates at each school.
  • Games will be closed to spectators for the month of January. Our intent is to prioritize the opportunities for students to participate in these healthy activities.

Responding to Illness

If a student begins to show symptoms at school:

  • Staff will not ask students if they are vaccinated.
  • The student will be isolated and monitored.
  • Parents/guardians or secondary contacts will be called and asked to pick up the student from school. (Students who can drive may be allowed to go home on their own, with confirmation from the parent/guardian or contact).
  • Students with symptoms listed on question 2 of the Daily Health Check (fever, worsening cough, shortness of breath, and or loss of sense of smell or taste), will not be permitted to return home on the bus. They must be picked up.
  • Students with more than one symptom from question 3 of the Daily Health Check, must also be picked up and not return home on the bus.
  • In all cases, PHSD staff will work with parents/guardians to determine a safe and reasonable response to the situation.

What should parents do after their child has been sent home with symptoms?

  • Because of the different requirements for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, the guidelines for parents responding to their child’s illness have changed significantly.
  • Please review the steps using the Daily Health Check.
  • Free Rapid Tests will be available for distribution soon. The use of these tests is another way for parents to reduce the risk of transmission to other students and staff.

All staff will continue to monitor their health with the use of the Daily Health Check and optional use of the free rapid tests.