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Province announces delay in return to school for K-12 students

Last Updated Dec 31, 2021 at 12:26 pm MDT

An empty teacher's desk is seen at the front of a empty classroom at McGee Secondary school in Vancouver on September 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Adriana LaGrange made the announcement Thursday, saying the move is necessary to support a successful return

There is still a possibility students will have to begin at-home learning if the situation warrants it

The decision to delay the return to school came as the province reported a record-high number of new COVID-19 cases

Alberta’s education minister says all K-12 students will have an extended winter break due to COVID-19 concerns, and won’t be returning to class until Jan. 10.

However, there’s still a possibility students will be forced to learn at home if the situation warrants it.

Adriana LaGrange made the announcement Thursday, saying the move is necessary to support a successful return to school and allow everyone more time to plan as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to surge.

The province says more information about whether students will return to school in person or online would be provided next week and that the decision will ultimately “be evidence-based using operational information provided by school authorities, case information and other available health data.”

Alberta’s diploma exams scheduled for Jan. 11 have also been cancelled.

In addition to giving schools time to plan, the province says the one-week delay will also give districts the time to gather information to “assess staffing implications and the potential operational impacts” of the current situation.

It adds the Health and Municipal Affairs’ PPE Task Force will also begin delivering 8.6 million rapid tests and 16.5 million masks to schools upon students’ return on Jan. 10.

Each student and staff member is expected to receive two five-test kits. More details on distribution will be provided next week.

Masks, meanwhile, will be distributed through schools in phases. The plan is to ensure every staff member and student will get an eight-week supply of medical-grade masks, with both pediatric and adult options available. More details on that distribution will be available in the days to come.

Alberta’s decision to delay the return to classes came as the province broke the single-day record for new infections, with preliminary data showing an estimated 4,000. The government’s COVID cabinet committee also met Thursday to discuss how to address concerns around the highly-transmissible Omicron variant.

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“With the COVID situation rapidly evolving, so too must our response,” LaGrange said.

“This pause will give teachers, school administrators and school authorities more time to plan for students to return safely to learning. Under very challenging circumstances, I am very grateful to parents, students, teachers and education partners for their flexibility during the pandemic.”

Schools will take the additional week to also make preparations for a potential return to at-home learning, should that be required.

The time will also give schools the chance to review changes in testing and contact notification processes.