Calls for mandatory masks, return to online learning in Alberta schools

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The head of the Alberta Teachers' Association and a spokesperson for Support our Students are disappointed with provincial mask rules that don't include schools – Sep 4, 2021

The head of the Alberta Teachers’ Association and a spokesperson for Support our Students are disappointed with provincial mask rules that don’t include schools.

This school year it has been up to school boards to decide if masks would be required.  Both the Calgary Board of Education and the Calgary Catholic School District opted for mandatory masks.

In Friday’s announcement, Premier Jason Kenney said that as of Saturday, masks are mandatory in all indoor public spaces and workplaces, except in schools.

Read more: Masks remain mandatory in Calgary Catholic, public schools as COVID-19 cases rise

School boards can continue to set COVID-19 policies as they deem appropriate.

“I have to imagine it was because the government was pandering to certain independent schools who may feel that masks are not required. I found that a very strange decision given that children under 12 can’t be vaccinated, but no rationale was provided,” said Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi on Friday.

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Dr . Joe Vipond with Protect Our Province Alberta said masks need to be mandatory in schools.

“Why are students being allowed to be put at risk when the rest of the population is being protected? It makes zero sense,” Vipond said.

Vipond also said families need to be notified of positive tests in schools again and schools may need to move online.

“Although I hate to say it, because it’s a really important service to society, schools I’m afraid need to be closed. They have a huge role in COVID transmission.  They’re going to close at some point. Why not do it early so we get the benefit that early closure?” Vipond said.

Read more: Mandatory masking, alcohol curfew returning across Alberta this weekend

Wing Li with Support our Students (SOS) is disappointed with masks not being mandatory in schools and said the province needs to take further measures to prevent schools from being closed again.

“Acknowledging that schools do contribute to transmission is important because that means they need to do something to sustain in-person learning. My question is what happens when we reopen?  Are we going to change anything when we reopen or do we just keep doing that three or four times this year. Something needs to change during the school closure to ensure this is not a roller coaster. We need to get off of it,” said Li, communications director with SOS.

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The president of the Alberta Teachers Association said mandatory masking in all schools and a return of contact tracing for students in elementary classrooms must be implemented.

“Contact tracing is a huge issue as well. When they announced that they weren’t going to isolate, test or do contact tracing that was one of the tools that schools used to know just how Covid was affecting their community. Without that information schools are essentially flying blind.  That is an unfair thing for government to do to schools and it’s not even giving them the basic information that they need in order to keep the school community safe,”  Jason Schilling said.

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Nicole Sparrow, press secretary to Alberta’s education minister, said the safety of students, parents, teachers and staff is the top priority.

“During the last school year, when we did not have the benefit of widespread vaccinations, our own chief medical officer of health confirmed that schools were not a main driver of community transmission,” she said.

“Data continues to indicate that the COVID-19 risk to children is low. Masking will not be universally required but may be recommended as one of several temporary interventions for respiratory outbreaks.

“In response to particular needs or local contexts, school officials will be able to make decisions that go above the provincial guidance, such as requiring masks. Students and staff who wish to wear a mask will be supported by their school to do so.”

Read more: Alberta COVID-19 modelling projects province could see up to 300 ICU admissions this month

The Foothills School Division announced on Friday that masks will now be required for all students and staff.

On Friday, the Rocky View Schools said on its website that over the weekend the board and administration will review the provincial announcement. Rocky View is a rural school division in Alberta that chose not to mandate masks this year.

“Today, the government of Alberta announced a series of temporary public health measures aimed at reducing transmission of COVID-19 and to prevent the health-care system from being overwhelmed.

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“Over the weekend, the Board and senior administration will review these temporary measures and confirm if and how they will apply to our schools. Expect to hear from RVS over the weekend on the direction that will be taken.”

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