LAKELAND - Staff, students and families associated with Northern Lights Public Schools' (NLPS) across the Lakeland area will likely face new challenges related to COVID-19 in the next school year, despite the provincial government’s recent removal of all pandemic measures for Alberta schools.
NLPS associate superintendent Terry Moghrabi says the lack of governmental monitoring — which took effect on June 14 — will put more pressures onto local school systems in the weeks and months ahead.
Throughout the pandemic, the division worked with Alberta Health Services (AHS), along with parents and staff to record cases to prevent potential outbreaks. Late last year AHS stopped providing services to record cases, but continued to monitor general pandemic measures. With the government’s recent announcement that all restrictions are now lifted and guideline documents are no longer available, the onus will fall back to communities.
The removal of provincially-enforced mandates include no more mandatory isolation requirements and no more mandatory mask use on public transport.
“The government also removed all references to the school guidance documents, the school year plan and the Alberta Health Daily Checklist—these are no longer required. Illness outbreaks in schools are going to have to be managed based on pre-pandemic practices, “ he said, which will now force staff to monitor and report any issues when students are away in high numbers.
“School authorities will have to work with our local public health team at AHS when needed, when we experience higher levels than normal absenteeism,” said Moghrabi.
The division will have to adjust back to traditional responses when sending students home who are sick or present signs of illness, but it will continue to be a learning curve, Moghrabi said, adding that at least school staff, students and community members have learned from the experiences of the last two years. While the government has removed its restrictions, Moghrabi believes that schools should continue to follow NLPS mandates and policies put in place for the pandemic.
“I don’t want to see another spike up of this again but it is a bit of ebb and flow with this one. My recommendation would be to hold off on that type of rescinding of the motion until we know we are truly out of this,” he told NLPS board trustees at last week’s public meeting.
Ultimately, getting parents on board with the update and implementation of any school policies and procedures—that will need to be clarified in the coming months— will be a challenge, said Moghrabi. A significant part of that challenge will be finding their own ways to inform parents and work with community members.
“In the event that parents question our ability to send home students when they’re sick, as a school division we return to our pre-pandemic practices which is that we can send home students if necessary when they are sick. There is a difference between mandatory isolation and individuals that might be sick,” he said, emphasizing the role of parents and guardians in the plans going forward. “Basically we would be encouraging parents—as during pre-COIVD—that if your kids are sick, please try keep them at home.”
Moving forward, Moghrabi said it will be vital to relay all information to parents and school communities. He said the new way forward will have to be re-written and re-explained.
“As such at this time—and at the start of the next school year— there are no guidance documents for us to follow or share with our school communities,” he said.
School officials expect to send messaging to parents and stakeholders in the coming months through internal and external channels.