Prairie Land School Trustees were informed at their meeting on Jan. 26 that Morrin School had COVID-19 outbreak at the highest level; this being one of the first two in the province that have reached this status in 2021.
As of Feb. 2, currently 298 schools, about 12 per cent, are on alert or have outbreaks, with 701 cases in total. 275 schools are on alert, with 502 total cases.
Outbreaks are declared in 23 schools, with a total of 199 cases. It was reported in-school transmission has likely occurred in 66 schools. Of these, 51 have had only one new case occur as a result.
Superintendent Cam McKeage shared that approval to close by the deputy education minister happened within an afternoon.
He explained that 55 per cent of students were in quarantine as well as 46 per cent of teaching staff and 15 per cent of support staff.
Substitute teachers were called but did not wish to enter the school for their own safety, also solidifying the need to close.
“It goes without saying this pandemic is hitting rural Alberta as well. It’s not just an urban centre too,” he said. “It was in the best interest for that school community to move to at-home learning.”
School doors will open again for in-person learning Feb. 1 while the alert status will remain until the beginning of March depending on the number of cases if any arise.
Alberta Health Services (AHS) has done an extensive search as to the source of the virus which was determined to be from within the school, transmitting from a classroom and then entering hallways and school buses.
McKeage said that the division has been ‘doing all we can to mitigate’ and was told there are no issues or concerns regarding public health at this time based on AHS’s findings.
He also mentioned one issue all schools have been facing.
A harsh cleaning product that was said to be burning skin after use has been a problem since August when Alberta Education purchased this product for schools to use as part of the disinfection process.
Since discovering its side effects, Prairie Land, in particular, decided to move away from this, coming up with a more mild solution to use.
AHS requested they switch back to the harsher product as there is a 10 minute kill time window for the virus if they use their current product.
McKeage agreed he would investigate further as he and administration felt they did not want to put chemicals in the hands of students and teachers if they had to.
“It’s a province-wide issue, not just Prairie Land,” he said.
Since the switch to in-home learning, another COVID case has been identified for a student. They remain quarantining.
As for construction and design plans for the new school, Deputy Superintendent Steve Neilsen shared recent soil samples were not promising but manageable.
The old gas station that used to sit next to the church adjacent to the school had become a brownfield after having old fuel that had seeped into the ground and ultimately contaminated that area and the nearby school where the samples were taken.
The quality of soil tested was also poorer quality, leading to most likely needing a concrete slab for the school base.
This base will be an added cost so administration has approached the province to determine how this amount will be covered.
Although at one point a two-story building was considered, plans to keep the school a single story is still the main priority.
Morrin Trustee Gwen Hampton shared that when reviewing the design, she and others were excited about the design shown.
Delia’s new school has been quickly taking form with a completed roof and solid structure holding it in place.
The crew is close to pouring the cement floor in the gymnasium.
Neilsen told trustees they have been ahead of schedule due to the nice weather and easy collection of tradespeople to work on the project.
“As a sign of the economy they have not had a hard time finding people to work,” said Neilsen. “There were 30 people working on New Year’s Day.”
Hanna Learning Centre representatives Doray Veno and Becky Viste shared with the board during a virtual presentation at the meeting that the University of Calgary led a study called Supporting Individuals and Communities in a Changing Landscape: A Social Resilience Audit in Partnership with Hanna Learning Centre.
This report looked at the potential changes to the community of Hanna as a result of the repurposing of Sheerness Generating Station and possible changes at Westmoreland Mining LLC.