Virtually all COVID-19 measures will be eliminated in Alberta by the end of August, meaning back-to-school will be back-to-normal for kids.
However, some believe youth aren’t being properly factored into the province’s reopening plans.
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Kids under the age of 12 can’t currently get the COVID-19 vaccine, and only about half of Alberta youth aged 12 to 19 are currently fully vaccinated.
Supports Our Students Alberta’s communications director Wing Li says this week’s announcement from the province has put some parents in a difficult position.
“It’s this feeling of being trapped,” Li said. “We’re going to send kids back to school, because they have to go, and yet we’re not doing even the bare minimum to protect them.”
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Effective Thursday, close contacts of COVID-19 cases are no longer required to isolate, and as of Aug. 16, Albertans who test positive will also not be mandated to isolate either.
When kids return to classrooms — on Aug. 31 for the Lethbridge School Division — they won’t have to wear masks. The province has said masking may only be brought in to help mitigate specific outbreaks.
But with contact tracers no longer alerting close contacts and testing soon to not be available at assessment centres, Li is confused by the normal return to school.
“We know now, after a year with two school closures, it really depended on testing, tracing and notification,” Li said. “Not having those, we do not know how you can even declare an outbreak.”
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Jonathan Teghtmeyer — a spokesperson for the Alberta Teachers Association — believes the lifting of restrictions is a poor decision. He said with so many kids not eligible for vaccines, it was always clear to the ATA that the virus would have a presence in schools, making the decision a puzzling one.
“Some simple, non-obtrusive measures to help present the spread of COVID-19 in the schools is frankly just prudent, and now the government has gotten rid of those basic measures,” Teghtmeyer said.
The province said on Wednesday that a finalized guidance document for schools is expected to be released in mid-August.
The Lethbridge School Division said in a statement to Global News that it will carefully review and follow the updated return to school guidelines.
“If everything remains on track, class quarantine protocols will not be a challenge. This will mean interruption to delivery of instruction will be minimal,” the board said.
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Horizon School Division superintendent Wilco Tymensen said the schools in his district plan to support personal choices when it comes to masking and vaccines, as well as the option not to return to the physical classroom.
“Certainly we have some families who are wanting to continue with online learning, and we’ll provide that opportunity for those families,” Tymensen said. “But I would say the vast majority of kids, they want to get back with their friends.”
The first day of school for the Horizon School Division — which covers the area between Lethbridge and Medicine Hat — is Sept. 1.
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