Critics wary of Alberta students returning to school after holiday break

All students from K-12 are set to return to in-person classes Monday, but some say the move could be premature.

In-class learning is soon to be back in the province following Premier Jason Kenney’s announcement Thursday and some experts say it’s just too soon.

The premier indicated that between September and the winter break only 0.4 per cent of students and school staff tested positive for COVID-19. However, Ryan Imgrund, a COVID-19 biostatistician, says that figure doesn’t actually reveal the full picture because not everyone gets tested – those without symptoms aren’t required to.

"What we’re forgetting is that students sometimes don’t show symptoms and they also don’t show the strongest symptoms,” said Imgrund. “When you don’t test for a case, you don’t find cases."

Coming out of winter break, Imgrund says it’s not enough time to ensure the virus in students has run it’s course so they could potentially bring it back into schools without knowing.

Imgrund says in one Ontario school, initially it was thought to only have three positive COVID-19 cases, but once all 350 students were tested, that number rose to 49.

While Ontario has delayed classes by another two weeks, Imgrund says provincial officials here have different priorities.

"There is a belief by public health officials that because the benefits of school are huge that it will overshadow what COVID-19 is going to do and I think that’s the thing that is blinding many public health officials."

Still, the chief superintendent of the Calgary Catholic School Board, Bryan Szumlas, is confident about students returning but has a warning for those who’ve gone abroad during the break.

"If any family travelled internationally during Christmas time they need to work with their teacher and principal," he said.

"Please do not come back into our schools on Monday because you’re putting us all at risk."

Jason Schilling, president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, says there are concerns with larger classrooms and the lack of support for staff members to ensure health and safety protocols are met. Schilling is calling on the premier for more support.

"The government had indicated a return to school is a priority for them so now they need to step up and make that priority an action and provide extra support for schools."