Alberta schools figuring out lesson plans in a time of empty classrooms

School administrators and teachers are at work today, but instead of presiding over classes and hallways full of students, they’re beginning to brainstorm strategies to keep a semblance of the education system running, Alberta’s education minister said Monday.

One of the first tasks will be figuring out a safe, orderly way for students to pick up books, supplies and personal items stashed in lockers and desks, Adriana LaGrange told CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM.

“You can appreciate that on Friday, many students left school thinking that they would be back on Monday,” LaGrange said.

“Schedules will be developed by schools to limit the numbers of people coming to the school at any given time. But this gives school divisions and school boards … as well as teachers, the flexibility to deal with the situation as it is evolving.”

On Sunday, the Alberta government announced that all kindergarten to Grade 12 classes in Alberta were being cancelled indefinitely because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The move puts students out of school one week before their spring break was scheduled to begin on March 23 — but offers no guarantee when or if they’ll return to classes this year.

During that announcement, LaGrange was clear that every student would receive a final mark and students will be able to move to the next grade in the fall.

Digital and web-based alternatives will be considered, along with other ways of sending work home with students, she said. The final plans will be guided by individual school districts, based on what they think will be most successful.

That work is getting underway today, LaGrange said.

“This will look different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction,” she said. “We have approximately 780,000 students across this province that will be learning in very different manners.”

A priority is being placed on the province’s Grade 12 students, ensuring they are able to write key diploma exams, which are worth 30 per cent of a final grade. As well, Alberta’s advanced education minister will be ensuring “that these extraordinary circumstances do not prevent their students from being eligible for admission,” LaGrange said.

LaGrange said she is aware of the difficulties this creates for parents. She said the decision was not made lightly. 

“I am a mother of seven and a grandmother of four. I totally understand the concerns and the challenges that parents will be facing. My message … first and foremost, is that we want to keep our children safe, and this is essential to keeping our children, the teachers and our school communities safe,” she said.

“But we we do encourage parents to see this as an opportunity to play a part in maintaining the health of all of Albertans.

“It is an unprecedented, uncharted territory that we’re in. And we thank them greatly for their patience and their understanding as we go through this very, very unusual time.”

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