Minimizing the risk of COVID-19 at school

Back to school brings a very different year ahead

While shopping with my kids recently, I chatted with a store employee and fellow mom about the upcoming school year. She joked about how finally March break was over! We laughed and commiserated about how tough the last few months have been and wished each other well. 

In some ways, it is good and even healthy to be able to reflect on these past months with levity and embrace it with a laugh. I also know that this time has been grueling for tens of thousands of Edmonton families. I’ve heard from families, I’ve heard their stories, and I know how much students, staff, and families miss the connections and community that attending school can bring. 

When I think about the upcoming school year, I think of the good that will come from having students back in classes. We need our children back in school, but we also need to ensure that it is done as safely as possible. If you haven’t read Edmonton Public Schools’ re-entry strategy yet, I encourage you to do so. The plan lays out the choices families have for returning to school, including in-person and at-home learning options. Staff at Edmonton Public School worked hard to find the best way to manage the risks of COVID-19 while still having a caring, consistent learning environment. 

But the reality is that physical distancing will be difficult to maintain in many of our classrooms. The province’s re-entry plan, which we as a school division must follow, does not include the financial support we need to have physical distancing in our classrooms. Doing so would require significant additional provincial government funding for staff and space to accommodate students.

Therefore, the leadership and trustees for EPSB have decided that all staff and students who are able to physically, developmentally, and psychologically wear a face covering must do so. This approach we are taking is in addition to the province’s decision to require masks for Grades 4-12 in common areas. We are adding an extra measure of protection for everyone in Edmonton Public School classrooms.

The board of trustees is advocating to the government to provide the additional funding required for students to return to in-person classes. We feel an extra investment in public education during COVID-19 is the prudent and right thing to do right now. 

The decision to send your children back to school is a tough one, but the option of at-home learning is not a choice every family is in a position to make. Please know that I have faith in EPSB’s plan and the principals, teachers, educational assistants, custodians, and other staff who will work their hardest to do what they’ve always done: ensure your children are safe at school. In September, those staff will be our next wave of front line workers. They deserve our gratitude as we all, together, navigate living with COVID-19 and the beginning of a very different school year. Visit epsb.ca/news/schools/choosehowyourchildwilllearninseptember.html for more information.


Featured Image: Every two months of the school year, families will choose whether their children will learn online or in person. | EPSB

Trisha Estabrooks

Trisha is the EPSB Trustee for Ward D. She is a former journalist with CBC.

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