Calgary could ‘step into the fray’ on Alberta school reopening plan: mayor

Calgary could ‘step into the fray’ on Alberta school reopening plan: mayor

Calgary’s mayor says the Alberta government’s plan to reopen schools in September isn’t good enough and the city could step in if it isn’t improved.

Naheed Nenshi said Wednesday that he’s “nervous” about kindergarten to Grade 12 classes returning to more-or-less normal, without mandatory masks, when daily COVID-19 infection rates are on the rise.

“Certainly we need a better plan from the education minister. We need a better plan from the government of Alberta,” he said.

“And if we don’t have one, the City of Calgary — we have to maintain people’s safety. And if we have to step into the fray, we will.”

Alberta Health reported another 133 COVID-19 cases and two additional deaths Wednesday. The province has seen more than 100 new cases on five of the last six days and infections are trending upwards.

Nenshi said the city does have a “very blunt tool” in the form of mandating masks.

The Alberta government has encouraged masks to slow the spread of COVID-19, especially in indoor settings where maintaining a two-metre distance isn’t possible. But it’s not making masks mandatory.

Calgary city council voted Tuesday to pass a temporary bylaw requiring face coverings in indoor public premises and public vehicles, effective Aug. 1.

Nenshi acknowledged that schools are provincial jurisdiction, but said city council could discuss its options before school starts.

He said the Alberta government and school boards have the ability to enact more nuanced rules than the city, such as making students wear masks only in the hallway or during close group work.

Under the province’s plan, schools with no outbreak would rely on measures such as hand sanitizer at the entrances, more frequent cleaning, grouping students into cohorts and planning the school day to allow for physical distancing.

Students and teachers would be required to stay home if sick. Masks would be optional.

The president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association said educators are eager to get back to work.

“But they want to make sure that they are doing this in the most safe manner possible and there are several questions and concerns about this scenario as it’s laid out,” said Jason Schilling.

Schilling wants as few students to a group as possible, and that would require more teachers.

The teachers’ union also wants to see a more robust sick leave policy, symptom checks for people entering schools and a testing protocol, along with assurances that there are enough substitute teachers to cover illnesses.

Schilling said consultations with the province were going well initially, but outstanding concerns went unaddressed in the weeks leading up the reopening announcement.

Schools were shut down in mid-March when the pandemic took hold in Alberta.

Barbara Silva, with the public education advocacy group Support our Students, said that’s when the province should have started investing in the infrastructure and staff needed to make schools safe.

“The recommendations are incredibly hollow if they’re not met with the resources and the funding that make those recommendations possible,” she said.

“So simply saying that students have to physically distance is impossible if you’re going to stuff 40 kids into a classroom made for 20 with no windows or windows that are non-operational.”

Silva said she’s worried students and staff are going to get sick, and that children’s education will once again be interrupted by another lockdown.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney reiterated Wednesday that shutting schools down indefinitely is bad for students’ mental-health and life prospects.

He noted countries in Asia and Europe have opened classrooms with relative safety.

Catholic school classes held in Alberta over the summer have been managed well during the pandemic, Kenney added.

One student who fell ill, and later tested negative for COVID-19, was immediately isolated and information was shared quickly, he said.

“That was a good dry run of how this would happen if and when there would be infections,” Kenney said.

“We can’t eliminate the risk of people contracting this virus, and that includes prospectively students and school staff. We have to manage the risk and that’s exactly what we’re doing in a prudent and careful way.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 22, 2020

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(Photo Submitted by the Gord Bamford Foundation)
Lacombe’s Gord Bamford to perform a virtual concert for a good cause

The concert aims to raise awareness for Operation Santa Clause

Alberta Health Services' central zone jumped from 162 active COVID-19 cases to 178 on Friday. Five additional deaths were reported provincewide, bringing the toll to 323. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
622 new COVID-19 cases set another daily high Friday

Province confirmed 622 additional cases Friday

The Under $100 Art Market is asking artists interested in selling their art to fill out and submit the online form. Photo courtesy Maureen MacKenzie.
Lacombe’s Under $100 Art Market returns for the second year

The market will be held during this year’s Light Up the Night festival

Alberta children whose only symptom of COVID-19 is a runny nose or a sore throat will no longer require mandatory isolation, starting Monday.
477 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Alberta on Thursday

Changes being made to the COVID-19 symptom list for school-age children

Alisha Bryan holds a handful of poppy sticks at the poppy laying ceremony on Oct. 28. (Alannah Page/Lacombe Express)
Remembrance Day will look a little different this year for Lacombe

The Lacombe Legion is taking COVID-19 precautions for people who want to pay their respects.

Royal Alexandra Hospital front-line workers walk a picket line after walking off the job in a wildcat strike in Edmonton, on Monday, October 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta labour board orders health-care staff who walked off the job to go back to work

Finance Minister Travis Toews said in a news release that he was pleased with the labour board’s decision

(Photo Submitted by the Gord Bamford Foundation)
Lacombe’s Gord Bamford to perform a virtual concert for a good cause

The concert aims to raise awareness for Operation Santa Clause

City of Wetaskiwin Mayor presenting the AUMA Above & Beyond Award to John Maude and Susan Quinn. Ren Goode/ City of Wetaskiwin.
Wetaskiwin County residents win the AUMA Above & Beyond Award

John Maude and Susan Quinn are being recognized for their role in Wetaskiwin’s sustainability.

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

Pilots Ilona Carter and Jim Gray of iRecover Treatment Centres, in front of his company’s aircraft, based at Ponoka’s airport. (Perry Wilson/Submitted)
95-year-old Ilona Carter flies again

Takes to the skies over Ponoka

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a daycare in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. Alberta Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz says the province plans to bring in a new way of licensing and monitoring child-care facilities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Alberta proposes legislation to change rules on child-care spaces

Record-keeping, traditionally done on paper, would be allowed digitally

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with US Vice-President Joe Biden on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, December 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
A Biden presidency could mean good news for Canadian environment policy: observers

Experts and observers say even a U.S. outside the Paris agreement may ultimately end up in the same place

People take a photo together during the opening night of Christmas Lights Across Canada, in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. The likelihood that most Canadians will enjoy a holly jolly Christmas season of gatherings, caroling and travel is unlikely, say public health experts who encourage those who revel in holiday traditions to accept more sacrifices ahead. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Ho, ho, no: Experts advise preparing for a scaled-back COVID holiday season

Many of the holiday season’s highlights have already been scrapped or are unlikely to take place

Sen. Kim Pate is shown in Toronto in an October 15, 2013, file photo. The parliamentary budget office says a proposed law that would give judges discretion on whether to apply a lesser sentence for murder could save the federal government $8.3 million per year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel
Judicial discretion for mandatory minimum sentences for murder would save $8.3M: PBO

The result would be fewer people in long-term custody at federal correctional institutions, experts say

Most Read