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Alberta to keep schools closed until Jan. 10 due to rapidly spreading Omicron

Alberta will postpone the return to school for K-12 students until January 10, due to concerns surrounding the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

Education Minister Adriana Lagrange said extending the holiday period would allow staff and school boards to better prepare for returning to classes. Diploma exams for high school students, which were due to start on January 11, will be cancelled.

“The school authorities have already told us they need more time to prepare,” Lagrange said. “I fully understand these concerns.”

The press conference to announce the delay was scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, with only 30 minutes’ notice.

“I have just come out of a meeting with Prime Minister Jason Kenney and my Cabinet colleagues to announce an important decision that we have just completed,” Lagrange said.

“Today’s decision was not taken seriously,” she said, adding that the government wants to share the news with Albertans as soon as it decides.

According to LaGrange, with the Omicron variable on the rise, many school board officials are concerned about potential hiring pressures, including teachers, bus drivers, maintenance workers and educational aides.

“Schools expect a large number of student absences, which makes it difficult for teachers to manage learning in person and at home at the same time,” the education minister said.

The number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise in the county, with 11,000 new infections reported over the past six days.

In an effort to make returning to the classroom safer, the district will also introduce 8.6 million rapid tests and 16.5 million “medical masks” for children and adults to schools in the week of January 10.

When asked about details about the masks, the county said it wouldn’t be N95, but it would be “more robust” than previously delivered fabrics rated for filtration. Each student and staff member will receive an eight-week supply of masks.

The province says the rapid test distribution will ensure that every student and school employee across Alberta has two test groups, with each group containing five tests. Distribution details are still being finalized.

Lagrange said more information will come in an update late next week.

The district says any further changes to resuming in-person learning will be based on “evidence-based” case information, health data and operational information from school authorities.

“With the rapidly evolving situation of Covid, so must our response,” she added. “Our plan to stop back to school is in line with other jurisdictions in Canada.”

polyester PPE for schools

The official opposition welcomed the delay in returning to classes but said the province needs to look beyond masks and rapid tests to give students a safer environment.

“Teachers need N95 masks. This has been clear for some time,” said Sarah Hoffman, deputy NDP leader.

“We also need to see the installation of HEPA filters and upgraded HVAC systems advocated by many parents and the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists,” Hoffman added.

“These are just some of the emergency measures we need to give our schools and the people working within them a fighting chance by January 10th.”

Delaying the start of teaching has benefits, Jason Schilling, president of the Alberta Teachers Association, said, along with rapid testing and distribution of medical masks.

“But there are still many questions about actions and other details about the government’s plans,” he wrote on Twitter. “I anticipate that the Minister will meaningfully reach out to the ATA in the coming week for further advice.

“We have consistently provided reasonable and sound advice about as safe a return to school as possible.”

Before the announcement, some Alberta parents told CTV News mixed opinions about the back-to-school plan.

Lindsay Primrose is a Calgary-based mother of three school-age boys who wants them to attend classes in person as soon as possible.

“It’s unfair to them,” Primrose said. “Personal learning definitely needs to be resumed.”

“Personal learning is very beneficial in many ways for our children, not only socially, but they are taught by people who have gone to school to be teachers,” she added.

Edmonton’s mother, Kimberly McMahon, says online learning is the safest option for her 7-year-old son.

“I think the internet is a better option than being in person right now, with a number of cases, a lack of interest in ventilation and good PPE schools (it) is unsafe and makes me really scared for my kids.”

other provinces

An increasing number of boycotts have delayed a full return to in-person teaching in class once the new year’s recess is over.

Ontario announced Thursday that students will return to classes on January 5, a two-day delay to allow time for more safety measures to be prepared.

BC said Wednesday that it will postpone in-person tutoring until January 10, except for learners who need additional support and who will return to school on January 3 or 4.

In Nova Scotia, the holiday period has been extended until January 10 to allow families to monitor any developing symptoms of COVID-19 before children return to classes.

All schools in Quebec will offer distance learning until January 17, where possible.

With files from Stephanie Thomas and Michael Franklin of CTV News Calgary

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