Normal return to school planned for Alberta students this fall

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The Alberta government says young students will be enjoying a return to in-class learning in the fall without the need for "extensive health measures" that were put in place for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Officials released details of the current 2021-2022 school year plan online on Wednesday, adding that while a "normal year" is expected, there will still be scenarios in the "unlikely event that they may be needed."

"I'm pleased that students can expect a return to a normal school year," said Education Minister Adriana LaGrange in the report. "With the continuation of Alberta's Open for Summer plan, Alberta's government expects the extensive health measures currently in place in schools will be eased or lifted. We have a detailed plan for (the) next school year that includes contingency scenarios for continuing student learning in case there is a significant change in the COVID-19 situation."

In the document, the ministry says it is basing much of it's decision on an anticipated shift from mandatory health measures to recommended health best practices.

Those guidelines are expected to be released by Alberta Health prior to the fall.

VACCINATION FOR YOUNGER ALBERTANS STILL UNKNOWN

While all Albertans both 2009 or earlier have been able to acquire COVID-19 shots, Alberta Education says it isn't clear when immunizations will be able to begin for those under 12 years old.

Without vaccines for that age group, it is likely health restrictions will remain in place for those students until the situation becomes more clear.

"Routine measures to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses will continue to include promoting and facilitating hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, staying home when sick, maintaining ventilation and ensuring regular cleaning and disinfection of high-touch areas," the document reads.

Alberta Education says vaccinations can allow older students to attend class without certain health requirements such as wearing masks or remaining within strict cohorts.

However, without being immunized children under 12 are likely to be placed in cohorts, but there are no rules about mandatory mask wearing.

ONLINE LEARNING SUPPORTS TO CONTINUE

Alberta Education says the 2019-2020 school year has shown that online learning has proven to be an effective and "important educational delivery approach" and it will work towards supporting students and parents that choose that avenue of learning.

The ministry's Online Learning Directory has compiled a list of programs, along with what sort of opportunities each one can provide.

TESTING EXPECTED TO RESUME

Since a normal school year is expected in the fall, Alberta Education says formal examinations, which were cancelled due to the pandemic, will resume.

Those include Grade 12 diploma exams, Grade 6 and 9 provincial achievement tests (PATs) and Grade 3 student learning assessments.

"Diploma exams will be offered in every diploma course subject in January and June and in select diploma course subject areas in April, June and August," the report says.

Participation in PATs is mandatory except in the schools that are piloting the new draft K-6 curriculum.

"PATs will be administered in all subjects – English Language Arts, French Language Arts, Francais, Knowledge and Employability, Mathematics, Science and Social Studies."

Alberta Education, in conjunction with Alberta Health, will release further details about the upcoming school year later in the summer.