Edmonton schools temporarily move grades 7 to 12 online amid 3rd wave of COVID-19

As Alberta struggles to keep the number of COVID-19 cases from skyrocketing out of control, Edmonton Public Schools and Edmonton Catholic Schools announced Tuesday that many of their students will be moving to online learning as a safety precaution.

Students in grades 7 to 12 who currently attend classes in person will shift to online learning for two weeks beginning Thursday.

“This is a pretty serious decision,” EPSB chair Trisha Estabrooks acknowledged at a news conference. ”

. When we look at the numbers, they really are trending in the wrong direction.”

READ MORE: Edmonton schools experience spike in COVID-19 cases: ‘It is concerning’ 

Edmonton Public Schools’ superintendent Darrel Robertson said the request to Education Minister Adriana LaGrange to move to online learning was made by the EBSB and ECSD on Monday and that he appreciates the ministry’s rapid response.

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He said the request was prompted by a sharp uptick in cases linked to schools, the resulting quarantining required from thousands of staff and students and a growing supply teacher shortage as the COVID-19 pandemic intensifies.

“Our ideal is always kids being face-to-face learning in a classroom,” Robertson said. “It’s out of both caution and operational challenges that we’ve made this request.

“‘I’ve been watching very carefully… the total number of cases has been increasing steadily.”

As of Sunday, Robertson said 112 COVID-19 cases were linked to EPSB schools and that 2,860 students and 342 staff were in quarantine. He added those numbers have again increased significantly in the past two days.

Robertson added that students in kindergarten to Grade 6 are not being required to move to online learning because the school board realized that “causes a significant disruption to our community.”

He noted that many parents rely on schools to be operational for their younger children and added that with in-person learning being suspended for older students, some staff may be able to help ensure adequate staffing remains in place for younger students.

In a statement, ECSD board chair Sandra Palazzo cited the same reasons as EPSB for requesting a temporary suspension of in-person learning for students in grades 7 to 12.

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“The safety and well-being of all students and staff continues to be our top priority,” she said. “As we implement this temporary shift in learning, we are committed to maintaining a strong and consistent learning environment for all students.

“We are hopeful that with the expanded vaccination process and this circuit-breaker, we will be able to return to in-person learning for the remainder of the school year.”

Tuesday’s development comes less than a week after the Calgary Board of Education and the Calgary Catholic School District announced their junior high and high school students would move to online learning.

READ MORE: Calgary junior, high schools move to online learning amid rising COVID-19 cases

Robertson said a letter was sent to parents earlier in the day informing them of the shift to online learning and that the EPSB also communicated the decision via a website parents use. He added that while in-person learning is being suspended, schools will remain open so that students who don’t have the equipment to move to online learning can acquire it or if they have questions.

When asked why more notice was not given, Robertson said the speed at which the situation is evolving is getting more intense by the day.

“We thought that waiting until Monday was going to be really challenging given our staff shortages,” he said.

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The EPSB also announced Tuesday that in-person learning for students of all grades at Kenilworth School was shifting to online learning immediately “after three positive cases of COVID-19 were recently reported at the school.”

“This transition was done with approval from Alberta Education due to the number of school staff and students who are in quarantine,” the school board said.

“There are approximately 86 students and 19 staff members from Kenilworth School in quarantine due to potential close contact with a positive case.”

More to come…

Watch below: Some recent videos about the COVID-19 situation in Alberta.

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