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Petition against mask mandate in schools concerning to Alberta teachers, health expert

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WATCH: A petition was started questioning the use of masks by children in Calgary schools. Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports on reaction from teachers and health experts.

An anti-mask petition calling the decision of mandatory masks for children in Calgary schools amid the coronavirus pandemic “unnecessary and potentially dangerous for their health and well-being.”

The Change.org petition was started on August 5 and has over 2,000 signatures.

It argues that students should not be required to wear masks for several reasons. But Dr. Vanessa Meier-Stephenson is an infectious disease physician and virology researcher with the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary. She is concerned with the petition because “evidence is not being used in the appropriate way.”

The petition states that “COVID-19 statistically proved to be not threatening for individuals younger than 18,” and insists that children are too active to be required to wear masks.

“There is an increased argument against masks wearing, which is being constantly suppressed in the media. Oxygen levels during masks level do go low, according to scientists and increased, breathed-in CO2 causes hypoxia,” the petition states.

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Read more: Alberta Grade 4-12 students, teachers will be required to wear masks in schools this fall

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Coronavirus: Mask wearing will be optional inside Alberta classrooms if students are appropriately spaced apart

Meier-Stephenson said studies show masks are safe for children and are necessary to keep everyone safe.

“In schools we are going to be hard-pressed to keep that physical distancing especially when kids want to be next to each other. This is why we need to have at least some other form of protection involved there,” she told Global News.

The petition also states that teaching staff are already protected through plastic shields and sanitation but Meier-Stephenson points out that new evidence shows youth and teenagers are essentially at the same risk as adults of spreading and acquiring infection.

Read more: Canada to release mask guidelines for children, recommend them for kids aged 10+

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Mask guidelines from infectious disease specialist

“Frequent hand washing and those masks may be the only chance we can have to really try to protect not only our students but our teachers. Let’s not forget our teachers are a big part of this too. If they get sick it makes things even more complicated,” said Meier-Stephenson.

The president of the Alberta Teachers Association said he is concerned that the mask use issue has become polarized now.

Jason Schilling said parents who don’t want their children to wear a mask should talk to school administration first.

“I would hate to see that teachers are put in an unfortunate or awkward position to have to try to patrol this in class because they have other things to do and they have teaching to do. To be sort of the moderator of this mask thing needs to be taken off their plate,” Schilling said.

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Read more: Parents, students and teachers react to CBE back-to-school plan

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Parents, students and teachers react to CBE back to school plan

The Alberta government has directed that students in Grades 4-12 and school staff will be required to wear a mask in all shared and common areas of the school such as hallways and on buses, or where social distancing measures can’t be maintained.

A spokesman for Alberta Education said the decision to mandate mask use for students in Grades 4-12  was made based on the advice of Alberta’s chief medical officer of health.

“If students arrive to school without masks, school staff are encouraged to use this as a learning opportunity to highlight the importance of mask use, and provide students with disposable masks if required. If students continue to not follow these health guidelines, schools should follow their standard disciplinary procedures,” said Colin Aitchison.

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He pointed out that that many school divisions are offering online alternatives, and if a parent is not comfortable with the health guidelines or sending their child to a physical school they have the ability to choose another option for their child’s education.

Click to play video 'Ways to make kids comfortable wearing a mask' Ways to make kids comfortable wearing a mask
Ways to make kids comfortable wearing a mask

In  a statement to Global News, the Calgary Board of Education said exemptions will be made “for students and staff who are unable to wear a mask for medical or other reasons. We continue to work closely with Alberta Health Services to inform our work and communication around the use of masks. If families have concerns about their students wearing masks at school, they should discuss this with the school when schools open in late August.”