The Alberta government is targeting a return to “near-normal” conditions with students returning to classrooms across the province for the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange says.

“Our goal is to get us back to normal learning as soon as possible,” LaGrange said Wednesday at news conference. “We are targeting a return to new-normal operations with some health measures in place.”

LaGrange laid out three scenarios that have been part of the planning for weeks now.

The first scenario would see near-normal operations resume with students returning to daily in-school classes with some health measures. Under the second scenario, in-school classes would only resume partially with additional health requirements. The third scenario would see at-home learning continue.

A final decision on school openings will be made Aug. 1, she said.

“Based on the information we have at hand right now, we expect that students will be at school in September,” LaGrange said.

Plan must be ‘flexible and nimble’

All school boards will have to be ready to transition from one scenario to another on short notice to adapt to any changes in the COVID-19 situation, she said.

“How we return to in-class learning may vary regionally and will depend on the number of COVID 19 cases in total in that area,” LaGrange said. “The reality is that the COVID-19 environment requires all of us to be flexible and nimble, flexible throughout the next school year.”

The decision about which scenarios to follow will be made by the government based on public-health guidance, the minister said, not by local school boards.

That will help the province ensure that all schools adhere to the appropriate health measures for their region.

“While things will not be exactly as they were before the pandemic, students will be back learning in an environment they know,” she said.

Since schools closed down in March, LaGrange said, teachers, school board and parents have done their best to adapt to different ways to help students learn at home, LaGrange said.

“We all know, though, that students learn best in the classroom with their teachers and their peers, provided that it’s safe to do so.”