Edmonton Public Schools (EPSB) is urging the provincial government to bring back contact tracing amidst COVID-19 outbreaks at 12 of its schools.
There are currently 573 self-reported COVID-19 cases at 165 EPSB schools, said chair Trisha Estabrooks in a media briefing on Tuesday.
“That’s 78 per cent of our schools that have cases of COVID,” she said. “Seventy per cent of that total number of COVID cases are in our kindergarten to Grade 6 (population), among students who can’t be vaccinated. We have 57,000 elementary students that aren’t eligible to receive the vaccine.”
EPSB has been notifying families about positive cases on its own, after the provincial government suspended contact tracing in the summer, the district said in a letter to the education and health ministers on Sept. 16.
Estabrooks noted that one year ago there were 68 positive cases in EPSB schools, information which Alberta Health Services had confirmed and shared with the district.
“This year the 573 number is strictly self-reported cases due to the fact that information isn’t being shared in an open, transparent manner with school divisions. We know that (573) isn’t accurate. We know there are more cases of COVID-19 in our schools and this is our biggest frustration. I commend our division for being so open and transparent. We are simply asking that the government be equally transparent and share data with school divisions about where COVID is in our schools,” said Estabrooks.
“Schools absolutely reflect what’s happening in our communities. They’re little microcosms of our society. This is why we’re fighting so hard right now to protect our students, especially kids under 12, to make sure they’re safe and not transmitting this virus and bringing it home to our families and contributing to what is already a crisis in our health care system.”
The school board is trying to make decisions about recommending schools or classes shift to online again but that is tough without an accurate picture of COVID numbers, she added.
“We need access to data to make good decisions.”
Westglen Elementary School declared a COVID outbreak on Thursday and shifted to online learning. A Grade 1 and Grade 5 class at two separate schools, which Estabrooks didn’t identify, also turned back to online.
Estabrooks spoke just hours after the Alberta Teachers Association (ATA) said in a statement that the Alberta government or individual school boards should mandate that school staff be vaccinated.