CBE calls on province to bring back contact tracing, mandatory isolation in classrooms

The Calgary Board of Education is calling on the province to implement additional COVID-19 measures in schools, after more than 350 COVID-19 cases were reported in the first few weeks.

On Wednesday, the province announced new public health measures such as mandatory masking for students in Grades 4 and up, and staff and teachers in all grades.

However the province has decided not to continue contact tracing in classrooms or notify schools of positive cases like they did in the previous year — forcing some school boards to rely on the honour system. 

In Calgary, two of its school boards — the Calgary Board of Education and Calgary Catholic School District — have taken it upon themselves to send notifications after families self-report positive cases.

But in a letter dated Friday, the CBE has pushed back on this and asked that the province immediately reinstate contact tracing by Alberta Health Services, as well as mandatory isolation for positive COVID-19 cases in schools.

“We are frustrated by the lack of coherent provincial guidance being provided to our families and students,” read the letter.

“Families have received mixed messages about the real and substantial risk that COVID-19 presents to our communities and school jurisdictions are left to fill the public health gap left by the government.”

According to the letter, the board says approximately 350 self-reported COVID-19 cases are linked to more than 120 CBE schools.

CBE chair Marilyn Dennis told CBC News the rising numbers are impacting learning and attendance in schools.

“The pandemic isn’t over and it certainly isn’t over in our schools,” she said.

“This letter is really a call for help. We are looking for help from the government to be able to maintain student learning in school.”

Parents need guidance

Dennis says one of the main problems is that parents need direction on what to do if there is a positive case in schools.

“The CBE doesn’t really have the ability to provide that health advice like ‘Yes, you should isolate’ or what is the next step,” she said.

She says that because of the confusion, parents are forced to make the decision themselves.

“When they hear there is a positive case of COVID-19 in their school, they are making a decision on their own as to whether or not they are sending their child to school which of course increases our absentee rate,” she said.

“And when you have much of a class missing, it’s pretty difficult to keep those lessons moving forward.”

She says the school board has around 70,000 children younger than 12 who are not eligible for vaccines, which is lending to the rising numbers in elementary schools.

“We need AHS to step in and do that testing, the contact tracing and guide families on what to do next. We are really trying to protect in-person learning.”

Vaccine mandates

The board also asked that the province mandate vaccinations for all employees who work in the education sector.

“Having the educators that serve them be fully vaccinated is just another layer of protection for those kids,” said Dennis.

Currently, there are no vaccine mandates for both students and staff at schools; however immunizations are available through temporary clinics in schools for students in Grades 7 to 12 as well as teachers and staff. 

The CBE also hopes that a strategy for continued access to vaccinations in schools is put in place, should the vaccine become approved for children under the age of 12.

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