By Kevin J. Sabo
For Bashaw Star
Despite the pandemic restrictions announced Sept. 16, not much is changing for the Battle River School Division (BRSD).
During the Government of Alberta announcement, restrictions were brought in for schools across the province, which include masking for students in Grade 4 and up, and elementary students have gone back to staying within a cohort in school.
Since the BRSD had decided during the summer to have a mask mandate in their schools for all community locations and hallways, the biggest change is going to be that grades kindergarten to grade three will no longer require masks.
“We started the school year with the mandate in place for all grade levels,” said BRSD communications director Diane Hutchinson.
“What last week’s mask mandate for the province meant for us is, masks are no longer to be required from kindergarten to Grade 3, but all elementary students were moved into cohorts, which means they only interact with their classmates and are not in proximity to large numbers of other students. It means that our elementary students are not interacting with the larger school community.”
Aside from the masking and the student cohort units, the school division is also maintaining a comprehensive cleaning program.
“We have cleaning crews that come in every evening into our schools,” said Hutchinson.
“We have cleaning materials available during the day as well. There is a daily process in place.”
The division has also set additional funds aside for deep cleaning facilities in place of an outbreak at a school.
Still, the restriction changes announced on Sept. 16 come at a time when BRSD, along with many other divisions, are finding multiple schools within their jurisdiction to be dealing with greater than 10 per cent of the students out of school due to medical absences.
“One school is experiencing school and staff absences in a significant way,” said Hutchinson.
Sparling School in Camrose, which has students from grades pre-kindergarten to 5, has a high number of both staff and students away due to illness, and for operational reasons has transferred to online learning effective Sept. 23, for a two-week period.
According to Hutchinson, the school division has authority to change a portion of the schools to online learning if it is deemed necessary, but the division can’t move entire schools online without the permission of Alberta Education.
“We’re keeping an eye on all the schools,” said Hutchinson.
Bashaw School is “one of several” schools in the division facing an absentee rate of over 10 per cent, and has been since Sept. 16.