Overview

Students across Alberta returned to class for the 2020/21 school year under Scenario 1: In-class learning with enhanced health and safety measures.

School health measures

The school re-entry plan (2020-21 school year) allows schools and parents to prepare for learning while putting student and staff safety first.

The plan offers guidance on a wide range of operational issues including masks, hygiene and health requirements, student learning, transportation, diploma exams, and mental health and psychological supports for students and staff.

Schools must consider the following health measures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19:

  • Masks
    • Grade 4 to 12 students and all staff must wear masks where physical distancing cannot be maintained, including on school buses and shared areas such as hallways. Some school jurisdictions may have additional mask use practices that go beyond the government's requirements.
    • Masks are not required while students are seated in the classroom during instruction if following the physical distancing guidance for schools.
    • Masks are required in the classroom when close contact between students, or students and staff, is occurring. Masks should be used for the duration of this activity.
    • Exceptions will be made for students and staff who are unable to wear a mask due to medical or other needs.
    • Mask use for kindergarten to grade 3 students is optional.
    • All students and staff will get 2 reusable masks. Government will distribute more than 1.6 million masks to 740,000 students and 90,000 staff.
    • School staff will get one reusable face shield to use in schools at their discretion. A mask must still be worn while wearing a face shield.
    • COVID-19 orders: Chief Medical Officer of Health Order 33-2020 – Masks requirements in Schools
  • Cleaning
    • Enhance cleaning and disinfecting practices.
    • Clean all areas of the school daily.
    • Clean washrooms and high-touch surfaces multiple times a day.
    • Regularly schedule deep cleaning when students are not present.
  • Hygiene and illness
    • Routinely screen all staff and students
    • Create a strict stay-at-home policy for any students or staff with symptoms of COVID-19
    • Set hand hygiene expectations when entering and exiting the school and classrooms, before and after eating
    • Regularly remind students and staff of respiratory etiquette:
      • cover coughs and sneezes
      • avoid touching your face
      • dispose of used tissues promptly
      • practice hand hygiene
  • Physical distancing and grouping
    • Practice physical distancing when possible.
    • Emphasize other hygiene practices in classrooms, buses and during activities when physical distancing may not be possible.
    • Reorganize rooms to allow for more physical space.
    • Create cohorts of students by class where possible.
    • Guide foot traffic flow through entrances and hallways by using markers on the floor or pylons/barriers.
    • Avoid large gatherings like assemblies.
  • Shared items
    • Create a “no sharing policy” - all students should have their own supplies.
    • Clean equipment between uses if students or staff share anything.
  • School buses
    • Mandatory masks for grade 4 to 12 students, and drivers.
    • Increase cleaning and disinfection of high touch surfaces.
    • Maintain a protective zone for the driver.
    • Assign students to seats that are grouped with other household members.
    • Use loading and unloading procedures that support physical distancing of 2 metres between students when possible.
  • Additional supports
    • 466,000 litres of hand sanitizer that is safe for children will be distributed to all school authorities based on student population.
    • 2 contactless thermometers will be given to each school.
    • Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services are working to expand testing capacity and reduce turnaround times for testing school staff, teachers and students.

Screening measures

Self-screening questionnaire

Parents, students and school staff must review the self-screening questionnaire each day before going to a school building. Visitors must also use this questionnaire to determine if they may enter a school.

  • Self-screening questionnaire (PDF)

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People with medical conditions

For students with pre-existing or underlying medical conditions or risk factors, parents should:

  • consult your child’s physician to consider the health risks and make a decision about returning to school that will best support the child
  • contact your child’s school to discuss available options and support

Staff should also consult a physician and discuss options with their school board. In addition to consulting with a physician, Albertans can assess the risk of experiencing severe health outcomes from COVID-19.

If a student shows symptoms

Use the following chart to find required and recommended actions to take if a student shows symptoms.

If a student tests positive for COVID-19, they must isolate for at least 10 days. Visit Isolation requirements for more detailed information.

Get COVID-19 test results online through MyHealthRecords
Watch: Dr. Hinshaw discuss COVID-19 symptoms
If a student has these symptoms What to do
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Isolate at home for a minimum of 10 days from when symptoms started or until symptoms resolve, whichever is longer.
  • COVID-19 test recommended.
  • Can return to school before 10 days only if a COVID-19 test is negative, symptoms are gone, and the student is not a close contact of someone with COVID-19.
  • If test results are positive, isolate at home for at least 10 days and follow instructions received from Alberta Health Services.
  • Chills
  • Painful swallowing
  • Stuffy nose
  • Headache
  • Muscle or joint aches
  • Feeling unwell, fatigue or severe exhaustion
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or unexplained loss of appetite
  • Loss of sense of smell or taste
  • Pink eye (conjunctivitis)
  • Stay home from school until symptoms go away — not required to isolate for 10 days.
  • COVID-19 test recommended.
  • If test results are positive, isolate at home for at least 10 days and follow instructions received from Alberta Health Services.

 

If symptoms develop at school

  • The student will be asked to wear a non-medical mask and be isolated in a separate room or kept at least 2 metres away from others.
  • Parents will be contacted to pick up the child immediately (ensure your school has up-to-date contact information).

Close contacts

Classmates and close contacts

If a student is a close contact of someone confirmed to have COVID-19, they must quarantine and stay home for 14 days. This longer period of time is required because the incubation period of COVID-19 is two weeks. Visit Isolation requirements for more detailed information.

Close contacts include people who:

  • take care of someone with COVID-19 or had contact through touch with the person with COVID-19
  • were close to that person for a long time, or
  • were coughed or sneezed on by that person

AHS will confirm and contact close contacts when there is a case at school and will contact parents and staff.

Generally, the entire classroom is considered to be close contacts of the case. This is a cautious approach to identifying close contacts in order to minimize the risk of transmission.

This means that if a student tests positive for COVID-19, all of their classmates must quarantine and stay home for 14 days. Additionally, all of these classmates should also be tested for COVID-19. Even if a classmate of a case is tested and the result is negative, they still must complete the 14 day quarantine.

Household members

If a student is identified to be a close contact (for example, is a classmate of a student who tests positive), family members of the close contact do not need to quarantine unless the close contact also develops symptoms.

Family members or other people in the household who had contact with a student while they were infectious (had symptoms) are required to quarantine for 14 days from the last time they were exposed to the sick student.

AHS Public Health will determine who is a close contact and how long they are required to quarantine when they complete their investigation.

Returning to school after an illness

A student who is required to isolate due to symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath, runny nose or sore throat) or due to having COVID-19 can return to school after a minimum of 10 days pass from when symptoms started or after their symptoms resolve, whichever is longer.

A student who is required to isolate due to symptoms may also return to school if they test negative for COVID-19, as long as they have not been identified as a close contact of a case of COVID-19.

Students who have pre-existing medical conditions with symptoms similar to COVID-19

The first time your child has a symptom that could be caused by COVID-19 or by a known pre-existing medical condition (such as a cough related to asthma), keep your child home and have your child tested for COVID-19.

Your child should be tested for COVID-19 to confirm that the symptom is not due to COVID-19 before they return to school. This will be considered your child’s baseline health. They may continue to attend school as long as this symptom stays the same and they do not develop any new symptoms.

If there is a case of COVID-19 at school

All parents will be notified when:

  • one confirmed COVID-19 case is identified as having been infectious while at school
  • an outbreak is declared

The COVID-19 school status map shows the current status of COVID-19 in K-12 schools across Alberta. Schools with 2 or more confirmed cases (within a 14 day period and where disease could have been acquired or transmitted in the school) will be identified on the map.

If a school has a confirmed positive case:

  • AHS Public Health will work with school authorities to quickly:
    • identify when symptoms developed
    • identify and contact people who had close contact with the person who tested positive to offer testing and let them know about quarantine requirements
      • People are required to quarantine for 14 days if they live with or are a close contact of a person who tested positive for COVID-19.
      • Only close contacts of a confirmed case of COVID-19 need to quarantine. Contacts of close contacts do not need to quarantine.
  • each school will:
    • notify staff and parents if a case is confirmed at school
    • support students and staff to learn or work at home if they are required to isolate or quarantine

If a school has 2 or more cases who were at school while infectious and/or were likely exposed to COVID-19 while at school:

  • the school would be considered to have an outbreak
  • AHS medical officers will assess the spread and exposure risk to determine if it affects students and staff in multiple grades and areas, or is confined within close contacts of a confirmed case, and provide specific recommendations
  • an outbreak will not automatically lead to school closure
  • Resource guide for COVID-19 outbreaks in schools

Tool kit and resources

Parents, students and schools can use the following resources to support safe in-class learning.

Parent guide

The 2020-21 Parent Guide contains steps parents and students should follow to reduce the risk of COVID-19 in schools.

Posters

Schools can use the following posters to promote important safety practices.

Videos - Returning to school safely

More videos are available to help prepare to return to school safely.

Learning at home

There may be situations in which students learn from home. Alberta offers several education options to support this.

Assessment and student supports

Diploma exams

The November 2020 Diploma exams will be optional due to COVID-19.

  • The decision to write November 2020 diploma exams resides with students and their parents
  • Students will receive an exemption if they choose not to write a diploma exam.
  • To receive an exemption, students need to take the course and receive a current school-awarded mark.

Learn more about writing diploma exams this year.

Provincial achievement tests (PATs)

  • PATs are optional this school year. School authorities can choose to participate. Schools can offer PATs in the following subjects:
    • Language Arts
    • Mathematics
    • French Language Arts/Français

Student supports

  • School authorities can, as deemed appropriate at the local level, reduce time spent teaching non-core subjects to allow for additional instruction time on core subjects.
  • Schools should have mental health supports in place for students and staff.

How we got here

School authorities planned for 3 scenarios to begin the 2020/21 school year. Alberta schools welcomed students under scenario 1.

Health officials will work with school authorities to make the decision to transition to partial in-class learning or at-home learning based on multiple factors including the number of COVID-19 cases in a community and/or a school and the risk of ongoing transmission.

Government of Canada safe return to class fund

On August 26, 2020, the federal government announced that it would provide funding to the provinces for COVID-19 related school re-entry measures.

Alberta’s total share will be approximately $262 million, made in 2 equal installments.

School authorities will be eligible to access this additional funding for COVID-19-related expenses, including:

  • staffing
  • adapting learning spaces and personal protective equipment
  • cleaning and safety considerations for schools and buses
  • supports for special needs students, and online learning and teacher training

$250 million will be distributed on a per-student basis, with the additional $12 million dedicated to support school authorities who are seeing a large influx in enrolment due to increased demand for their online learning programs.