'It's tough on them': Alberta parents gearing up for sudden shift to online learning amid COVID-19 surge

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Three weeks ago, Katie Heidt and her husband pulled their two children from their elementary school amid soaring cases of COVID-19 over concerns for their own health. After being vaccinated, they decided to send them back to in-person learning this week.

But now they’re shifting back again after Premier Jason Kenney announced Tuesday evening that all K-12 students in the province would be moving online beginning Friday.

Heidt is concerned about the toll the back-and-forth from in-person to online learning is taking on her kids, who are in Grade 3 and Grade 5.

“We moved to Edmonton in the fall so the only friends they have made have been at school because we can’t meet kids in the community right now,” she said.

“That’s hard because that’s their social opportunity in school, so we’ll definitely miss that and just the unknown, if they are going to go back or not. It’s tough on them.”

It’s a situation that parents across Alberta are suddenly faced with, again. With just a few days notice, many will have to find options for child care.


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However, Heidt, a teacher, said her family is in a better position than most because she is already working from home and can help her kids with their learning.

“We’re really lucky in that it’s not a huge disruption to our family like it will be for most families,” she said.

Matthew Lui, who has two kids in Grade 1 and Grade 3, echoed that sentiment. Lui is able to work from home and will be able to watch his daughters once they switch to online learning.

He said his family is lucky because they have a spare room where his kids can set up for online schooling so they’re not on top of each other in the house.

“We are also blessed because I have a couple laptops for them to use and I know not every family can have that, some families have five kids and one computer,” Lui said.

During a news conference Wednesday, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said she understood that for many, the decision was difficult to hear but that it was made after there had been increasing cases of COVID-19, which was also reflected in schools, over the last week.

“Over the last 10 days, in particular the last four days, the number of students and staff quarantining, shortages of substitute teachers, and requests from schools to shift to at-home learning have all increased substantially,” LaGrange said.

“We had all hoped that this type of a shift was behind us. However, we must take on one more reset to stop the spike and protect our health-care system.”

Students will move to online until May 25. Exceptions are available for students with disabilities, allowing them to attend in-person, similar to what has happened before.


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But NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley said she believes two weeks will not be enough to get cases under control.

“Parents should be offered the opportunity to have their kids online for the rest of the year,” she said.

For Edmonton Public Schools, the decision to move online came as a relief, said board chairwoman Trisha Estabrooks.

“Even though our division made the request, and it was granted two weeks ago, to move (Grades) 7 to 12 online, the pressure on our system and the increasing cases that we were seeing in kindergarten to Grade 6 in the last two weeks was on a trajectory where it’s not sustainable,” she said.

Since April 20, there have been 209 cases of COVID-19 in Edmonton Public Schools, Estabrooks said. The vast majority of those would have been in K-6, she said, as Grades 7-12 had already moved online.

There have been 4,014 students and 559 staff who have had to quarantine due to being a close contact of those positive cases.

“I think that just highlights some of the pressures that our school division certainly has been under in the last two weeks,” she said, adding there will need to be a “significant drop” in cases in order to reopen schools safely.

Christine Meadows, spokeswoman for Edmonton Catholic Schools, said the division recognizes the shift will be hard on some students and families, but it will relieve operational strains.

“We’ve been noticing some staffing shortages, especially with our supply pool, and as you know, one case can lead to dozens of isolations,” Meadows said, adding the division is committed to maintaining a strong and consistent learning environment for students as they switch to online.


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Meanwhile, Alberta Teachers’ Association president Jason Schilling said in a statement the organization is looking forward to working with the government and other stakeholders on ways to support schools when they return to in-person learning.

“Serious efforts to contain the pandemic in Alberta communities will be essential to ensuring that students, teachers and staff can be together again safely,” he said.



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