Alberta school staff, parents concerned about COVID-19 measures protecting students


 As the province gets set to re-implement contact tracing in Alberta schools, many teachers and parents say they’re still worried students don’t have enough protection from COVID-19. 

Premier Jason Kenney announced this week that school authorities will start contact tracing notification on Oct. 12

Then, in November, Alberta Health Services (AHS) take over contact tracing, something it stopped this school year. Most schools were instead relying on parents to notify them if their child had fallen ill. 

But amongst education professionals, there is still some skepticism over the new plans. 

Consort School principal Kevin Van Lagen says he’s not confident in the province’s ability to share timely information with parents and teachers. 

“We are really floundering and figuring it all out on our own without a lot of support,” Van Lagen told CTV News. 

Van Lagen took exception to the premier’s Thursday claim that “there has been information shared between schools and with their staff and with the Department of Health.”

“(So far), there’s been no direction whatsoever from AHS,” the principal said. “So for the premier to say, ‘oh no, there’s been this contact and there’s been information sharing,’ that’s absolutely false.”

In total, 52 schools across the province are currently dealing with outbreaks, meaning 10 or more cases of the virus have been identified.

Meanwhile, 751 other schools are on alert, meaning two or more COVID-19 cases have been identified within the last 14 days. 

Van Lagen says he knows of other school staff members who are worried the province won’t be able to keep up its contact tracing plans, and will eventually need to push students online.

He also believes the lack of current isolation specifics will hurt learning. 

“At this point, (COVID-19) is running rampant through the schools. I’ve talked to several principals and pretty much we’re all dealing with the same things: cases that we do know of, cases that we suspect but we haven’t heard officially, students missing school for periods of time without any confirmation about why. 

“By the time this all is really is instilled, perhaps we’ve got the desired herd immunity in our schools.”

Alberta Teachers’ Association president Jason Schilling agreed. 

“To get this announcement is a little late in the game,” Schilling said. “We should have learned from last year…and done this sooner.”

Schilling believes the first few weeks of contact  notification has the potential to overwhelm school staff, especially considering just how many students in the province currently have – or know someone who has – COVID-19. 

“They’re putting it on to schools, so now school administrators and administrative assistants working within those buildings are once again picking up the slack of something that’s the Alberta government’s job to do,” he said.

The province said this week it will give rapid testing kits to parents in outbreak zones to test their children at home. 

On Thursday, officials said there are no current plans to move learning online. 

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