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School divisions have busy weeks ahead to implement back-to-school plan

Questions remain as school officials continue to plan for September classroom starts

LAKELAND - Parents searching for more specific details on how a return to in-class learning will look in September will have to wait a little longer.

After Tuesday' release of the provincial government's K-12 School Re-entry plan, local school officials say that many of the document's guidelines will have to be put into the context of individual schools. Across the Lakeland area's public, catholic and Francophone school districts, administrators are currently working on specific planning details that will see further adaptations once individual school administrators and teachers come back to work at the end of August. 

School division officials are expecting to be in contact with parents in the coming days and weeks to explain what they can to their stakeholders.

"Division administration, in the coming days, will review the most recent re-entry documents provided by the government," said St. Paul Education Regional Division (SPERD) board chair Heather Starosielski. "From these documents we will be finalizing specific re-entry guidelines for all SPERD schools, students, staff and parents that will provide a greater understanding of what school will look like this September and what we will be doing to help protect our students and staff."

Parents can expect to have more information in mid-August, said Starosielski.

"We understand that it will be difficult to create a plan that will satisfy all parties, but the division is committed to following all health measures as directed by Alberta Education and the Chief Medical Officer of Health," she added.

When asked about an increase in funding to school boards that was brought up in the July 21 provincial media release, Starosielski said the division did not receive any new funding.

"School boards have not received any special pandemic related funding. St. Paul Education did receive approximately $1 million more in Capital Maintenance and Renewal funding. This one-time allocation was an advancement in future IMR funds that allowed for additional school renovation projects to take place this year and was part of the province’s economic stimulus package to keep Albertans employed during these challenging times," she explained.

While it's hard to estimate the impact that COVID-19 will have on schools, Starosielski said there likely will be additional costs for cleaning, personal protective equipment and additional substitute teachers, among other things. COVID-related costs will be funded by reserves.

SPERD students will be returning to school on Sept. 2.

Northern Lights Public Schools

When the estimated 8,000 Northern Lights Public Schools students return to classes on Sept. 1 in 26 schools in Lac La Biche, Bonnyville and Cold Lake, their experiences may vary.

"At some schools, we can do things in the plan differently than others, depending on the size of the schools, classrooms, student numbers," said Garner, explaining that staff, and the students and their families at individual schools will be part of the specific planning variations. "We have been working on this, and we will continue to go through the plans in more detail and have all the things in place that we can, so that when the administrators and the teachers come back, we can all see what to do on a school-by school basis."

Parents will be informed along the way, said Garner, explaining that a communication release is expected to go out to families over the next few days. The information, she admits, will still have some holes in it, as school staff input will still be needed to fill in some of the blanks.

"Our priority continues to be the students, and making them as safe as possible with the proper supports in place for academics as well as addressing the mental health impacts," said Garner.

CSCE

The Conseil scolaire Centre-Est (CSCE) is working to have a plan available to parents of the Francophone school division by early August.

"At the moment, we are planning the implementation of all measures within our means to safeguard the health of our staff and our students," said CSCE Superintendent Dolorese Nolette. And while the overarching plan will be available in early August, the "school implementation plans" will likely only be communicated with parents later that month.

Nolette says the division was hoping the province would announce scenario one as the return to school plan.

"The return to school within scenario one was the scenario CSCE was hoping for rather than scenario two." Although, Nolette says the division has been planning for both scenarios.

CSCE students will be returning to school on Sept. 1.

Planning for Changes

Government officials have told area school district administrators that the recommendations outlined in the plan can and will be altered if it is apparent that things need to change. School officials tell LakelandToday.ca that they've been told the plan is "flexible" and could allow hybrid classrooms that continue to incorporate some virtual learning options. If a severe outbreak of the coronavirus happens within a school — or a community surrounding it — provincial officials can mandate school closures.

School officials also say they are aware that some families may not be comfortable with the plan and chose to keep their children from classes. In the weeks of planning that have been done, school officials have planned for that contingency as well.

"Will there be a percentage of students not coming back? Absolutely," said NLPS board chairperson and Alberta School Boards Association director Arlene Hrynyk. "I think there will be some percentage of families that just aren't comfortable making that choice right now."

Hrynyk says home schooling options with program links to the public school system could be an option for those families.

"That may be the model that Northern Lights is considering," she said, admitting that like all other school boards, trustees, staff, parents and students, she is awaiting more details on the back-to-school rollout. "I'm waiting for more information as well. There are a lot of pieces to this, and there will be more information to come."





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