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Alberta students prepare to head to the classroom

Last Updated Jan 7, 2021 at 2:24 pm MST

CALGARY (CityNews) – Students and families are getting ready for in-person learning after a week of online classes.

But with concerning numbers in Alberta and a new variant of the virus found in Canada, parents and teachers anticipate pivoting if there are more outbreaks or if schools shut down.

“I am worried, I don’t want COVID, I don’t want my son to have COVID.”

Amy Castro and her family did their best adjusting to at-home learning after the holidays but the Calgary mom is looking forward to in-person classes safely starting up again.

“My husband and I both work out of the home. (My son) is only 10 and I didn’t want him to have long periods of time where he wasn’t supervised.

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange confirmed on Twitter Monday that students are set to return to in-person classes on Jan. 11.

However, the Alberta Teachers Association (ATA) is still concerned.

“I’m worried we are just going to send teachers and other employees in schools and students back into the system and repeat the same cycle we saw in the fall,” ATA president Jason Schilling said.

“Kids having to isolate, teachers having to isolate, then in for two weeks out for two weeks.”

Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Craig Jenne said low testing numbers could explain the low cases but it’s too early to tell if delaying in-person learning made a difference.

“Our numbers have been variable over the holidays, we have seen a number of days with lower numbers with testing.

“If there was viral spread over the holidays those cases will only start showing up at the testing clinics at the end of this week so we really need to keep an eye on the numbers to make a safe decision.”

Studies emerging from the United Kingdom, where the COVID-19 variant is emerging, suggets that it spreads much more easily among children and that reopening schools can end up increasing community transmission of the virus overall.

But health officials are confident that measures such as increased sanitizing and mask-wearing will still keep people safe. There’s also no evidence yet that the COVID-19 vaccines being rolled out to the public are any less effective against the variant.

Wing Li with Support our Students Alberta said there are more risks this semester with the variant emerging, and there could be other unfortunate effects if the virus spreads more widely in schools.

“This ping pong back and forth is also unhealthy, it’s unstable for families. What we need is a plan that’s multi-pronged, not just oh we’ll shut the schools for now and do nothing in between,” she said. “There are new factors now that kind of make things almost worse in January because there are also new unknowns stacked on top of what we already do know about what happened in the fall.”

Li said there has also been an issue with transparency, as it took a long time for information to be shared about outbreaks in schools and then there were criticisms of incomplete information after it started being released.

Edmonton parent Dave Gray chose at-home learning for his grade 11 daughter after his wife passed away in June.

“We are not taking a risk with our health. I do not want to leave her an orphan at 17.”

Castro admitted her family didn’t have a good experience last year with at-home learning but this time around she felt everyone was more prepared, whether they finish the school year in person or back online.

“I’m comfortable if we have to go back to online learning and not go back to school that we’ll make it work.”