With students having returned to classes, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw has written a letter to parents about adjusting to the new school year in a COVID-19 environment. The letter also provides information about the health guidance and dealing with COVID-19 cases at school.
The letter is posted in multiple languages on www.alberta.ca/returntoschool.
The English version of the letter is included below and is attached as a PDF.
September 3, 2020
Dear Parents/Guardians of Alberta students:
With the 2020-21 school year starting up, I wanted to reach out with a few reminders.
We’re all going to need some help as we navigate the upcoming weeks and make our
children’s school experience as comfortable as possible while we manage our own
anxiety about what a school experience in a time of COVID-19 looks like.
Adjusting to living with COVID-19
Let me start by saying I’m a parent too. I know that all of us want the best for our
children whether they are going back to a classroom or you’re supporting their learning
at home. This pandemic is hard for everyone. Our kids are not going back to the same
school environment they left in March. Things will not look or feel the same this year.
For my family, I truly believe that returning our children to in-person classes is part of
ensuring their overall health. You may feel differently and your decisions must be made
in the best interest of your family. Whatever your choice, your school authority has a
program to suit your decision and my team is working to support your school authority.
Public health guidance for schools
We have been working with our partners in Alberta Education and Alberta Health
Services (AHS) to develop the guidance for school re-entry. Your children’s schools and
their school authorities have plans for putting this health guidance into action. I believe
that this is the right next step to getting Alberta’s students back to classes in a way that
reduces COVID-19 risks in our schools, but also considers other aspects of their health.
My team and I will be closely watching the return to school experience to use this
information to adjust our public health advice if needed. I have committed to posting any
new orders Monday through Thursday, and will share information when new orders get
posted online via social media, and at my regular updates.
If everyone works together to follow the public health guidance, we can help keep one
another safe. Please screen your child daily for any symptoms with the list your school
has provided. If your child is sick, please keep them home and arrange for them to be
tested for COVID-19 through AHS. Appointments can be booked online at
www.ahs.ca/covid. Some of you may have heard that it isn’t worth getting tested
because it takes too long to get results. AHS is working hard to improve testing
turnaround times and result notification, because it is so important to be able to get a
test and results as quickly as possible.
Schools have put in place enhanced cleaning and disinfecting, physical distancing plans
and cohort plans for students. Your school has developed a plan for implementing these
measures within its specific setting. It is important that all members of your school
community follow this plan to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Clarification of mask requirement
As a part of the safety measures to reduce COVID-19, mask use for students in grade 4
through 12, and all staff and visitors is provincially required. This applies to all staff in
all settings outside of seated classroom instruction where physical distancing of two
metres cannot be maintained. Students will be required to wear masks in all shared and
common areas, including hallways and on the school bus.
We recognize that wearing a mask all day during instruction may have impacts on
communication and learning for children. The mask policy and guidance announced in
early August has always stated that masks are not required when children are seated at
their desks. Where two meters is not possible between desks or tables, students should
be arranged with the greatest distance possible between them, and so they are not
facing each other, such as in rows, so they are not likely to cough or sneeze directly on
the face of another student. If close contact between students, or students and staff is
occurring due to a non-seated activity, non-medical face masks should be used for the
duration of the activity.
While the above information on the mask requirement has been part of our guidance for
several weeks, it was formally adopted on August 29th through Order 33-2020. This
order was finalized and issued over the weekend before schools started with the intent
to ensure that school authorities could review the order before it came into effect on
August 31st. The order does not change the policy or my advice for guidance in schools.
I am sorry for any anxiety or confusion that this order may have caused.
How to help your child prepare
You are critical in supporting your children to manage these changes. I know that it can
be hard for children to stay at a distance from friends or to stay in one cohort. It is
natural for children of all ages to want to be close to their friends and play together,
especially after having been apart for a long time. You can help by talking to your child
about the changes they will see in their school, helping them become comfortable with
wearing a mask, showing them how to wash their hands and teaching them about the
importance of keeping physical distance where possible. It is also important to help our
children remember to be compassionate to others who may forget the new rules or are
unable to wear a mask. Supporting each other to adjust to the new normal will be our
best long-term defence.
Dealing with cases of COVID-19 in schools
Despite all the measures that will be taken in your child’s school, I expect there will still
be some cases of COVID-19 in school settings. My team has developed a resource
guide to help school communities understand what tools are available when responding
to COVID-19 in school settings. That includes what to do when there are symptomatic
students or staff in the school, what to expect when a case or outbreak is identified and
information to provide to the school community. This COVID-19 School Outbreak
Resource Guide can be found online at alberta.ca/ReturnToSchool.
You will be notified if there are any cases of COVID-19 at your child’s school. Our
partners at AHS public health will work closely with school administrators to ensure that
all close contacts of any COVID-19 case are identified and informed as quickly as
possible. You will also be made aware of any additional public health measures being
implemented at the school.
Supporting mental health
With the big changes to our children’s lives over the past several months, it is natural
that they may be feeling anxious or fearful. If you need any supports for your children or
for your own mental health, you can find resources at the AHS website “Help in ToughTimes”. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to any of the resources listed there if you
Finally, I want to say thank you for your continued efforts to help slow the spread of
COVID-19. Successful re-entry depends on all members of our school community
working together to ensure the safety of all those attending school. We are all in this
I wish your family a safe return to school.
Deena Hinshaw, BSc, MD, MPH, CCFP, FRCP
Chief Medical Officer of Health
For more information on school re-entry, please visit: alberta.ca/ReturnToSchool.