ATA pauses return to in-person operations
New restrictions on movement and masking requirements don’t go far enough to protect students and teachers, says Jason Schilling, president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association.
On Sept. 15, the province announced it was reintroducing mandatory masking in all workplaces and indoor spaces, including schools, where masks are now required for students in grades 4 and up and for all staff and teachers. Schools that can implement an alternate COVID safety plan can be exempted from mandatory masking, while elementary schools are required to implement class cohorting.
“While these new restrictions bring more consistency across the province and will help provide some additional protection to students and teachers, the government is late to this party and didn’t go far enough,” Schilling said.
For months the ATA has been calling for a more careful return-to-school plan, and the government’s latest measures fall short of expectations, Schilling said.
The ATA continues to advocate for additional measures such as contact tracing conducted by Alberta Health Services, regular consultations with stakeholders and improvements to ventilation in schools.
ATA operations in holding pattern
Meanwhile, plans to resume in-person operations at the Alberta Teachers’ Association had already been put on hold due to a previously announced recommendation that such plans be paused. The public health emergency declared on Sept. 15 mandated that employees work from home unless their physical presence was required, reinforcing the plan that the ATA had already put in place.
“We’re in a holding pattern right now due to the restrictions mandated by the province and also our own consultations with health-care experts,” said associate executive secretary Brian Andrais.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the ATA’s buildings in Edmonton and Calgary have been closed while the vast majority of employees have worked from home, and the various meetings that the ATA conducts have mostly been held virtually. ❚
What’s happening elsewhere in Canada?
- Full-time in-person learning has resumed, as well as extracurricular activities such as sports and music. Masks are mandatory for all staff, as well as Grades 4–12 students. Cleaning protocols and hand-washing routines continue to be a priority.
- The province has committed $87.5 million for increased ventilation and improvements to school buildings. While the government continues to recommend vaccines, they have not issued a vaccination mandate for teachers or school staff.
- Full-time in-class instruction has resumed in the Yukon. Masks are only recommended for school staff and students. Physical distancing is encouraged in school common areas. Hand sanitizing and washing will continue to play an important role in student safety. Seat assignments and mandatory masking are required on school buses.
- Physical distancing is no longer required for Grades 7–12. Masks will continue to be mandatory on school buses and in common areas in school buildings. Masks are not required in the classroom
- Extracurricular activities, such as drama, choir or band, have been suspended, and physical education programs or extracurricular activities that are high contact will not be allowed.
- The 2021-2022 Safe Schools Plan describes a school year that will operate in a prepandemic mode. Many COVID restrictions, such as masking or physical distancing, no longer exist. The Saskatchewan Health Authority continues to work with schools on contact tracing and quarantine protocols.
- Ultimately, school divisions will decide their own pandemic safety regulations. Those plans must be presented to the government for approval. The Saskatchewan government has promised $21 million in funding for additional supports for students returning to school.
- While the territory is currently free of COVID-19 cases, it is not business as usual for schools. Enhanced cleaning is still taking place in schools. Students are advised to avoid any physical contact. Group activities are being limited. The sharing of food and drink between students is discouraged.
- Masks are not required in schools as long as there remains zero transmission of COVID-19 in that school region.
- Manitoba schools are open to near-normal operations. Masks are recommended but not mandatory for school staff and students. PPEs will be provided in schools. Cohorts in the younger grades are continuing but have increased from 30 students to 48.
- Notification of COVID-19 cases continues in schools, as well as regular updates posted on a public dashboard. An emphasis on vaccination for students 12–17 will continue with vaccine clinics planned across the system.
- The Manitoba government has earmarked $40 million for additional staffing, learning and technology, and health and safety.
- Masking is mandatory for all students Grade 1 and higher. Elementary students will continue to be cohorted in their classrooms and high school students will not be allowed to take more than two courses at a time, resulting in another year using the quadmester system.
- Extracurricular activities such as interschool sports, music, choir, field trips and assemblies have resumed. Cafeteria and computer labs have reopened.
- The province has announced funding for ventilation, as well as high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters in all classrooms without mechanical ventilation.
- The Québec government has eliminated classroom bubbles but has mandated masks for all students and staff while in common areas. Masks can be removed in the classroom.
- Extracurricular activities like sports are permitted but may require a vaccine passport to participate. Students have assigned seating in school buses to facilitate contact tracing.
- Rapid screening tests will be provided to regions with higher case numbers. These regions may be susceptible to the introduction of stricter safety measures.
- Cohorting for K–8 is no longer taking place. Masking is mandatory in all common areas, and schools will be expected to manage congested areas such as hallways and boot rooms. Students are expected to regularly disinfect their workspaces. These measures shall remain in place until 90 per cent of students aged 12–19 are double vaccinated.
- A working group on ventilation systems in schools was established early in the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to work with schools to improve air quality in classrooms.
Prince Edward Island
- Masks are recommended when moving through common areas but may be removed once seated in the classroom. Masks are also recommended on school buses. The province says enhanced cleaning and disinfection, handwashing and screening will continue to play an important role in how schools manage COVID-19.
- The province has also committed to hiring additional teachers, education assistants, youth service workers, autism consultants, bus drivers, cleaners and administrative support workers to handle the long-term impact the pandemic has had on schools, staff and students.
- At the time of writing, a mandatory mask order is currently in place for all school buildings in Nova Scotia. The province is expected to enter phase five of its reopening plan by mid-September. Phase five may result in masking in schools becoming optional.
- Extracurricular activities like band, music classes and sports have resumed, as well as the use of lockers, cubbies and cafeterias.
- The province vows to continue its inspection and maintenance of school ventilation systems.
- Newfoundland’s back-to-school plan has students returning to the classroom full time rather than the blended learning approach used last year. Cohorts and physical distancing are not required, but schools are asked to avoid crowding in common areas. Masking is mandatory on school buses but only encouraged in the school setting.
- Sports activities, field trips and school lunch programs have resumed.