Edmonton Public Schools preparing online classes as thousands of teachers and students absent

Just two days into a return to in-person classes, the chair of Edmonton Public Schools said officials were preparing in case classes and schools have to move online because of staff shortages due to COVID-19.

On Tuesday, 494 teachers and 262 educational assistants were absent. The board said that was a total for all causes, and an exact number of absences because of coronavirus was not provided.

Seven teaching positions were unfilled, despite 29 emergency replacement teachers being dispatched to cover classes.

About 1,500 students, or 1.44 per cent, were absent Monday because of COVID-19. Another 1,500 or so were absent due to “general illness.”

No classes or schools had been moved online Tuesday.

“We continue to watch case counts, we continue to watch the positivity rate (increase). And so, as a school division, we have to be prepared at a moment’s notice to shift classes or entire schools online,” board chair Trisha Estabrooks said.

The board of trustees is asking the province for more help to keep students in school.

School officials want staff to be able to access COVID-19 PCR testing and Alberta Health Services to notify schools when there’s been a positive case.

Trustees are also asking for clear guidelines from the province about when it’s time to move classes online.

“That is one of the frustrations. Previously, there were very clear metrics in terms of when we were shifting or making a request to shift an entire school online. Now it’s on administration to kind of set their own benchmarks,” Estabrooks said.

The public school board website will eventually include absentee rates and information about positive cases.

The board hopes those details will reassure parents that schools are watching the numbers closely.

The Alberta government delivered masks to the school board this week, and those were sent to high schools.

Estabrooks said they’re still waiting for smaller masks for younger students and rapid test kits for families.

Last week, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange promised an online tutoring hub for students in grades four to nine who need extra help in math and literacy.

The first six pre-recorded tutoring videos were posted Tuesday.

“Schools play such a critical role in supporting students’ overall wellbeing. Thank you to everyone in Alberta‚Äôs education system for their hard work to keep our schools safe for students and staff,” the minister tweeted Monday.

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Matt Woodman

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