Trustees can’t make good decisions without province’s numbers: chair

  • Edmonton Journal

  • 7 Jan 2022

  • ASHLEY JOANNOU

Edmonton Public School Board trustees have published an open letter to the Alberta government calling for better access to data and clear metrics on when classes or schools should be transitioning to online learning amid the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

The letter, published days before students are slated to return to in-person classes Jan. 10, also asks that schools be considered “highrisk” settings, which would mean Alberta Health Services could continue to notify schools when a positive test happens.

At a news conference Thursday, board chairwoman Trisha Estabrooks said she is expecting “a very turbulent time” in schools, with increased staff absences, at least for the month of January.

“We need good data in order to make good decisions about shifting classes or making the request to shift entire schools online.”

“Right now, we do not have access to that good data,” she said.

In earlier waves of the pandemic, three cases within five days was the benchmark for moving classes online, Estabrooks said. She expects that won’t continue now that the province has limited who has access to a PCR test and is asking the public to use rapid tests and isolate at home when they have symptoms.

“But what will continue? And that’s some of the questions that we have for the minister,” she said.

Education Minister Adriana Lagrange’s office did not respond to questions by deadline Thursday.

Estabrooks said it’s unclear how schools will be informed if a student tests positive for COVID-19 on a rapid test.

“Are principals going to be having to collect that data and then pass it on to AHS? We don’t have clarity on that yet. What I will say is that staff in our schools are working as hard as possible and to add another task, like collecting rapid test data, that’s going to be challenging,” she said.

“All that being said, we need access to data.”

According to Edmonton Public, 151 teacher jobs were unfilled during the 13 operating days for schools in December when the highly transmissible Omicron variant began spreading across the province. That’s a jump from 74 jobs in the month of November.

An increase of just 10 per cent in staff absences would lead to 30 additional unfilled substitute teacher jobs per day, according to the school board’s letter.

Estabrooks said the division has a list of about 2,100 people who could take substitute positions but that officials are expecting to see staffing shortages in schools.

“The question isn’t how big the pool is, it’s how healthy is the pool of supply teachers and supply educational assistants that we can rely upon?” she said. “Knowing what we know about the high transmissibility of this variant, our concern is are we going to actually have supply teachers and supply EAS who are able and healthy enough to take these positions?”

The government has already promised 8.6 million rapid athome tests and 16.5 million medical-grade masks to students and teachers.

At a news conference Wednesday, Lagrange said the government will begin distributing shipments of rapid tests and masks later this week and all schools will have their first shipment by the end of next week.

Estabrooks said the division has received some of its allocation of adult masks but no test kits yet.

“Ideally, though, it would I think go a long way … and reassure parents, if we could have these supplies in place when school begins,” she said.

Edmonton Public parents have until Jan. 11 to choose whether to have their children learn in person or online for the second half of the school year.

Estabrooks said families will make the choice that is best for them, adding that schools are as safe as they possibly can be.

“Teachers are doing their absolute best to ensure that the really good, solid protocols that we have in place at Edmonton Public Schools are being followed,” she said.

 

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