Chinook’s Edge School Division kindergarten to Grade 12 students as well as their Catholic school counterparts in Olds and Innisfail will not be returning to classes on Monday as planned.
Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced yesterday that students’ winter break will be extended provincewide to Jan. 10.
Primary and secondary students in the area’s two school divisions were set to return to class Jan. 3 after a winter break that started Dec. 20.
Because of the delay to class resumption, the province has cancelled January diploma exams which were to start Jan. 11.
“With the COVID situation rapidly evolving, so too must our response be,” LaGrange said during a press conference held last evening announcing the changes.
Statistics released yesterday pegged the number of new COVID-19 cases at 4,000 over the previous 24 hour period. It was an estimate, as data reporting is limited during the holiday closure.
Health Minister Jason Copping and Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw are expected to provide an update on COVID-19 and the ongoing work to protect public health at 10:30 this morning (Dec. 31).
Alberta’s plan to pause return to school is in line with other jurisdictions in Canada, said LaGrange, and is in response to concerns from education stakeholders.
LaGrange said she and department staff have spoken to leaders in the education system during the winter break.
“Like all of us they are worried about the rapid rise of the Omicron variant,” she said.
The Education minister said the extended break will give school authorities time to gather additional data to assess staffing implications and the potential operational impacts of the current COVID-19 situation.
“Schools are expecting a high number of absences, making it harder for teachers to manage in-person and at-home learning at the same time,” she explained.
School authorities will use the extended student winter break to prepare for potential in-person and at-home learning scenarios, as they have done previously during the pandemic, she said.
It also gives the province time to figure out how to distribute 8.6 million at-home rapid tests and 16.5 million medical-grade masks for students and staff to schools across the province starting Jan. 10, LaGrange said.
The new supply strategy announced yesterday will help support safe learning, she said.
“School authorities will also use the next week to prepare for changes in COVID testing, notification and reporting of COVID cases,” LaGrange said. “As Dr. Hinshaw explained before Christmas, the rapid rise in cases has led to a shift in PCR testing strategy.”
Increased rapid transmission of the disease forced health officials last week to change its testing strategy to focus limited resources on high risk groups at continuing care homes and in health-care settings.