First wave of Calgary students return to class as part of staged re-entry

CALGARY — It’s the first day back at school for tens of thousands of students in Calgary, but it’s already shaping up to be a school year like no other.

Most students will be required to wear masks for much of the time they are in class, but, over the weekend, the province eliminated the requirement for social distancing in classroom settings.

The Alberta Teachers’ Association calls the move confusing and troubling to educators.

“I found it stunning, almost. I think that right now we’re in a time when teachers need clarity and confidence in the re-entry plan,” said ATA president Jason Schilling “We know that teachers right now are feeling anxious. We did some polling with our members and found that 91 per cent of teachers are feeling anxious and exhausted already with the re-entry plan.”

Through the summer, parents had to choose whether they would send their children back to class. Close to 20 per cent of parents in Calgary opted for the ‘hub learning’ — a blended online and home schooling option. The other 80 per cent are sending their children back to the classroom starting this week.

“It’s a little different, but as long as safety procedures and everything are in place, I think it’ll be ok,” said Casey Hepburn, a parent. “It’ll be helpful for the kids to get back into the social environment and be able to interact with each other again.”

“I think they’ve put enough thought into the program right now,” agreed Steve Bater. “From what I’ve seen on some of the literature that’s come out from the school, it’s well thought out as best as it can be.”

Many parents though have trepidation about how often children will end up being sent home for minor ailments, and how that might affect their ability to return to work.

“The common cold can’t exist right now because it would be treated as COVID and you have to get your kids tested before they can be accepted back to school,” said Alyssa Komusi. “I don’t know how that’s gonna work with the working parents, because not many employers are gonna be like, ‘Oh yeah, take five days. That’s totally fine’.”

Students who have been out of class and away from many of their friends say they are happy to be returning to class.

“I’m looking forward to going back to school. I miss all my friends and I think that online school was a difficult adjustment,” said Grade 10 student Ava Sangster. “I’m glad that I get to see my teachers and I think it’s just gonna be more beneficial for me.”

While the province eased restrictions on social distancing in schools, students in higher grades will still be required to wear masks while in school. That’s a plan some students say is destined to fail.

“These masks are uncomfortable to wear for seven hours a day, in our closed environment of our school, surrounded by our peers,” said Grade 10 student Enzo Sarcor. “It is gonna get pretty, pretty annoying pretty quick.”

“They’ll tell kids to do one thing,” added Sangster, “and they’re gonna try to do the opposite.”

Both Calgary school boards have institutes a staged re-entry, so that all students are not returning at once. Some schools are welcoming students back in groups in alphabetical order based on surnames, while others are basing the re-entry on what grade the student is entering.                              

Classrooms are expected to be operating in full by the long weekend.

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