By Cole Parkinson
While COVID cases have continued to rise in Alberta, Horizon School Division hasn’t seen any big spikes within their schools in 2021.
While there have been a few quarantines imposed since the beginning of the year, the division hasn’t had to completely move to at-home learning since December 2020 — when the province mandated Grade 6-12 students move online.
“We’ve been fortunate we have not had a lot of cases since Christmas. But, we also have a number of staff and students quarantined,” explained Wilco Tymensen, superintendent of schools at the board of trustees meeting March 22.
But with that spike in cases in Alberta, the back and forth between the division and Alberta Health Services has started to ramp up.
“It seems the communication with Alberta Health seems to be increasing again. We always try to put a comment out to please be diligent with following COVID guidelines and maintain social distancing. We encourage all of our community members to continue to wear masks, especially while we have people waiting for vaccines,” added Tymensen.
Early in 2021, the division experienced very few COVID cases and it wasn’t until mid-March until there was any concern.
“We had no cases in schools up until about a week ago. And then we’ve had a number of students that have had to quarantine since then,” continued Tymensen.
With the current school year reaching the stretch run, focus within several Horizon schools has shifted to the coming graduation ceremonies.
Last year, schools in the division were able to adapt and hold ceremonies. While they were very different from past years, they were largely successful for students, parents and staff.
As schools start preparing for graduations, and with cases still high in southern Alberta, the division is expecting most ceremonies to be held like they were last school year.
“At this point with our schools, their graduation plans are basically mirroring what last year’s plans were — for the most part. The expectation that we’ll be having large gatherings of 1,000 people or hundreds of people at a graduation banquet is not a realistic goal at this point. Obviously, things may change. Every three weeks, there is a revisiting of what stage we are in — but certainly, the concern around increasing variant cases in Lethbridge and the number of cases going up,” stated Tymensen.
Even if things were to take a turn for the better, the fact planning graduation ceremonies take time and the shift to a more “normal” event may not be possible given the timing.
“The time and planning for graduation is such you can’t just make a change in the spur of the moment. All of our administrators, at this point, are moving forward with the main plan with something similar to last year,” continued Tymensen. “And that varies from school to school. They all look a little different based on what graduation looked like.”