South Peace News
Schools in La Crete are continuing to hold in-person classes despite the rest of the province’s schools temporarily moving online May 7 in an effort to curb Alberta’s surging coronavirus cases.
A letter signed by Assistant Principal Eran Cardinal and a May 5 email from secretary Betty Fehr both state Ridgeview Central School in La Crete will remain open and classes will proceed as usual.
Both asked parents not to mention on social media that the schools are continuing with in-person classes.
However, both were quickly shared on Facebook and Twitter, prompting support from some and outrage from others.
Nicole Sparrow, press secretary for the Minister of Education, says Alberta Education allows for specific exceptions from the shift to at-home learning to “ensure continuity of learning.”
“For example, schools for students with disabilities continue to receive supports and services in-person at school, regardless of the shifts to at-home learning,” Sparrow says.
“Hutterite colony and Mennonite schools have also been granted exemptions, as these unique communities lack the technology and equipment required to support online learning,” she says.
La Crete is a largely Mennonite community.
“If there is a COVID-19 case in school, the school operations will be evaluated by the school authority and Alberta Education,” Sparrow says.
“Staff and students will be expected to follow COVID protocols when working in schools, including those in Mennonite schools and on Hutterite colonies.”
Sparrow says there has been no expectation or direction that this information be treated as confidential.
“To specifically clarify the contents of the letter, Alberta Education did not give direction to the school authority regarding communication on social media,” Sparrow says.
She adds the new eligibility for the COVID vaccine announced May 3 for all teachers and school support and administrative staff will add another “layer of protection” in schools, and the provincial government encourages everyone to sign up for their vaccine as soon as possible.
Multiple schools in La Crete were previously granted a mask exemption.
Meanwhile, cases of coronavirus continue to rise in Mackenzie County, where 23 people have already died of COVID-19. There were 172 active cases at press time.
High Level Public School, Spirit of the North Community School, and Florence MacDougall Community School are all currently listed as experiencing outbreaks while High Level Christian Academy, Fort Vermilion Public School, and Rainbow Lake School are on alert status.
St. Theresa General Hospital in Fort Vermilion, the closest hospital to La Crete, is also listed as under outbreak status.
Many locals on social media and sources who contacted South Peace News say cases in La Crete may not be accurately reflected in provincial numbers because they claim people in the area are not getting tested.
Peace River MLA Dan Williams has previously stated on videos posted to his official Facebook page that getting tested for coronavirus is a “personal choice.”
La Crete was also the site of a recent case of vandalism against AHS vehicles, when RCMP confirmed eggs were thrown at four cars while healthcare workers were in the area to expand ConnectCare on April 10. Approximately 4,000 staff and 280 physicians as well as other prescribers were involved in the North Zone launch.
Multiple restaurants in La Crete now have closure orders according to the AHS list of North Zone enforcement orders. They include Subway, the Burger Shack, Home Style Bakery and Lunch Counter, Country Grill Steak and Ribs, the Espresso House, and Diner Delights Cafe.
Grace Bible Fellowship in La Crete is affiliated with Grace Life Church, which made headlines when it was physically fenced off by AHS and became the site of a large protest. Pastor James Coates of Grace Life Church is currently on trial for breaking public health orders by holding multiple full church services.
MLA Williams has spoken out against the closure of Grace Life Church by AHS, and Grace Bible Fellowship Pastor Mike Hovland has called public health orders limiting the capacity of church services “tyranny.”
Hovland has not responded to multiple requests for comment on social media and via email about whether his services are following guidelines.
Dianna Rinne, senior communications advisor for AHS North Zone, says AHS is not responsible for school exemptions.
She says to date, North Zone Environmental Public Health has not received any complaints related to Grace Bible Fellowship in La Crete and neither onsite inspections nor enforcement activities have been undertaken at this facility.
Rinne says Environmental Public Health reached out to local faith based leaders in February 2021 to discuss the existing CMOH requirements for faith based gatherings and since been in the process of following up with local faith based leaders to discuss current public health requirements.
“This may include observation of faith services and several area leaders have welcomed our attendance at their respective sites. As complaints relating to faith-based gatherings are received, Environmental Public Health will follow up with the indicated facility,” Rinne says.