Division News Article

Update—COVID Restrictions in Pembina Hills

February 3rd, 2022

Students returned to school on January 10th after an extended winter break. This extension was provided in anticipation of the impact of the Omicron variant on staff and student attendance. School staff used this time to prepare for anticipated absences—for themselves and their students.

In this update:

Absentee rates

As predicted, the number of Covid-related student absences rose sharply in January, peaking above 200 during the week of January 24-28 – exam week for high school students. Due to the altered schedule, there were a lot less students who needed to be in school on any given day. This may have worked in our favour as it appears that our overall absentee rates are a little lower during this first week of February. While they are lower than the peak, Covid-related absence rates are still considerably higher than any other month so far this school year.

absence rates Jan Feb 2022

PHSD has struggled to keep staff in every role during the month of January. While we have not had to shift to at-home learning on a large scale, there have been unique circumstances that required short term solutions that were workable, but not ideal. Some parents will acknowledge that their bus routes have been cancelled because of staff shortages. This situation has not yet returned to normal.

We had hoped that we would be able to loosen up the health measures sooner than later, but it appears that we will need to hang on a little longer; at least until this wave of absenteeism settles down.

When will restrictions be relaxed?

During the month of January we minimized face-to-face meetings and limited the frequency of field trips and sporting events. We continue to balance the need for measures that limit transmission of illness with the needs of students to learn and play together. We will monitor the decisions of government authorities regarding restrictions. We will continue to align our practices with provincial guidance. As always we will keep the needs of students and staff as critical conditions of our decisions.

Protesting near schools

We acknowledge people are exhausted with the restrictions and some have chosen to express their desire for change in the form of protest. We urge people to consider the responsibilities PHSD staff have regarding the safety and wellbeing of the communities’ children. We remain responsible for teaching and learning among all of the unavoidable disruptions. But some disruptions can be avoided. If you choose to gather in a public protest, please do it away from school property. Our students require and deserve the safe learning spaces that schools provide.

The Education Act is clear in its intent to maintain the safety of students and staff. Section 256 “Prohibited Activities,” states:

No person shall (a) disturb or interrupt the proceedings of a school, (b) disturb or interrupt the proceedings of a school meeting or board meeting, (c) loiter or trespass in a school building or on property owned by a board, or (d) conduct themselves in a manner detrimental to the safe operations of a school.

This means that freedoms of speech or assembly must not infringe upon the lawful expectation that a school authority will assure that the safety of its staff and students are not disturbed or interrupted by such behaviours.

Masks and rapid test kits

PHSD schools have begun to receive their second shipments of masks and rapid test kits. This week we will continue to distribute these resources as we have since the first shipments arrived in mid-January. We respect that there are different opinions about the requirements regarding masks in schools but until we hear differently from the province, we are expected to continue to follow their guidance and recommendations.

We appreciate the support our communities have given our school staff and students throughout this pandemic. We look forward to safely celebrating student growth and achievement together, as soon as possible.