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Alberta students board a school bus as they return to school for the first time since their holiday break was extended due to surging COVID-19 cases, near Cremona, Alta., on Jan. 10.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

One of Alberta’s largest school boards wants the province to open vaccine clinics in schools as the number of students and staff infected with COVID-19 rises.

Trisha Estabrooks, chairwoman of the board for Edmonton Public Schools, says a letter will be sent to the United Conservative Party government by the end of the week after the board unanimously passed a motion to try to get more five to 11-year-olds vaccinated and reduce the spread of the Omicron variant.

“We are seeing an increasing trend of teacher and educational assistant jobs going unfilled, and we’re seeing an upward trend of overall student absenteeism in our schools,” Ms. Estabrooks said following Tuesday’s board meeting.

Parents in B.C., Alberta anxious as schools set to reopen amid COVID-19 surge

“We expect this trend to continue.”

Edmonton Public Schools says on its website that more than 5 per cent of its 105,092 students were absent Tuesday owing to COVID-19 – up from 4 per cent a day earlier.

Ms. Estabrooks said there are 10 classes in the division that have returned to online learning. A spokesperson for the Alberta government said a total of three schools across the province have also returned to learning at home.

Katherine Stavropoulos, press secretary for Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, said in an e-mail that “decisions on shifting entire schools or school authorities to at-home learning continues to be made by the Alberta government.”

She said the department receives input from school authorities.

“In either situation, consideration is given to student absentee rates, the ability of a school or school authority to have staff available to operate in-school classes and other relevant information, including local health data, if available,” said Ms. Stavropoulos.

The latest data from Alberta Health shows about 42 per cent of kids between the age of five and 11 have received a single dose of vaccine and about 5 per cent have had both doses.

A total of 3,279 new COVID-19 cases were reported Tuesday and nine new deaths. On Monday, the province said a child between five and nine years old was among those who died.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, has said the government is looking for ways to increase the vaccination rate among youth.

Ms. Estabrooks said the school board is providing the government with a solution to prevent further infections and is hoping for a decision sooner rather than later.

She added that it should be an easy task because schools have had clinics in the past.

“We did host a number of clinics in our high schools and our junior highs in the fall,” she said.

Calgary mother Morgan Turigan, 40, said she’s more assured about her decision to not send her two daughters back to school this month after seeing an increasing number of children in hospital for COVID-19 in recent weeks.

She said her seven-year-old daughter’s entire class went online three days after the winter break because of a positive case in the classroom.

“For people who think COVID is mild, tell that to the parents of the kid who died or the parents with kids in the pediatric hospital right now,” Ms. Turigan said in a phone interview.

“I just cannot put my kids knowingly into a situation where I could compromise their health. It’s the long-term damage to their health that we won’t find out for decades.

“That’s just terrifying to me as a person who understands long-term risks of viruses.”

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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