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Foothills School Division commits $250,000 for COVID monitoring

“This money is needed. It was needed to come from the Minister when she made her announcement yesterday, but that did not happen. We cannot afford to have our executive team supporting every other staff member in our jurisdiction (for) contact tracing.” ~ Okotoks school trustee Larry Albrecht
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Foothills School Division Okotoks trustee Larry Albrecht expressed frustration with the Province's plan for schools to monitor and report COVID until mid-December. (Photo submitted)

Monitoring and reporting COVID has become an expensive and time-consuming job for the Foothills School Division.

Last week the board of trustees voted to spend $250,000 to put more resources in place to track and report COVID cases and free up the time of division administration.

“This money is needed,” said Larry Albrecht, Foothills School Division chair and Okotoks trustee. “It was needed to come from the Minister when she made her announcement yesterday, but that did not happen. We cannot afford to have our executive team supporting every other staff member in our jurisdiction (for) contact tracing.”

Albrecht noted that the Province will not be taking over contract tracing in schools for a number of weeks and in the meantime have left it up to schools and school divisions without supports, funding or resources.

Christ the Redeemer (CTR) Catholic Schools is not allocating extra funds to contact tracing but said they are being impacted.

"We have had to redeploy personnel, which adds to their workload and causes them to cancel, pause, and/or neglect other duties," said CTR co-ordinator of communications, Cindy Nickerson in an e-mail statement. "We will be looking for ways to implement the new system that reduces the burden on both school administrators and our office, and we hope Alberta Education and Alberta Health Services will respond to the request of system leaders to streamline the contact tracing process."

Parents with children in CTR schools are now being informed if there is a case in their child's classroom.

"To date, our cases count is relatively low, though even one case is a concern," Nickerson wrote in the email. "There is little evidence of suspected in-school transmission to date, and that is the issue we are most focused on. About a week ago, we committed to informing parents about when there was more than one case in a class, because that may be a marker of in-school transmission. With the new reporting system, we believe we will be informing parents about every case in their student’s classroom cohort, but we are awaiting details."

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced Oct. 5 that schools would again be providing COVID contact notifications until Alberta Health Services (AHS) takes over by mid-November.

“School authorities will help the AHS team identify close contacts and will focus on school-based exposures only,” she said.

Notifications of close contacts will include those that happen in schools in the classroom, through school sports and in school extracurricular activities only.

Foothills School Division and Christ the Redeemer Catholic Schools have been publishing self- reported COVID cases in students for just over two weeks.

In that time, Foothills School Division has been reporting about six to nine cases daily, however the number of active cases has remained steady between 30 to 40 cases in the division’s 21 schools. As of Oct. 11, Meadow Ridge School had the highest number of cases at 15, with seven being reported on Oct. 8. That school is under an outbreak alert.

Christ the Redeemer has been reporting one or two new cases per day and, as of Oct. 11, had 18 active cases in its 18 schools. The highest number of cases is six in École Good Shepherd.

Foothills School Division will also be working with legal counsel to review a letter from the Province encouraging school divisions to require proof of vaccination from teachers and staff.

The Calgary Board of Education and Edmonton Public Schools have created deadlines for its staff and teachers to provide proof of vaccination.

Ward 1 trustee Jack Molyneaux said this is another issue the Province should not be downloading onto school divisions.

“I just want to comment too on this again falling on our executive team and our board to make decisions that Alberta Health Services should be on the forefront of making,” he said. “It is a distraction from what the job of education is. Putting back on the divisions to do it is to pass the buck.”

About the Author: Darlene Casten

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