Questions raised over mask policies in Alberta schools

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WATCH: A number of school boards have revised their mask policies after Alberta announced new COVID-19 restrictions on Friday. As Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, Red Deer trustees and an infectious disease expert are raising concerns about the lack of a provincewide mask mandate for schools. – Sep 7, 2021

Around 50 people gathered outside the Red Deer Public Schools office on Tuesday afternoon.

The protesters were opposed to a new mask policy that requires all students to wear masks in common indoor areas.

However, if students are seated in rows and distanced from each other, they can take off their masks while in the classroom.

Read more: Masks now mandatory in Rocky View school division

University of Calgary infectious disease researcher Dr. Craig Jenne said it can be safe to not wear masks with small class sizes and proper ventilation, but there are few classrooms in Alberta where that is the case.

“Without overarching rules, we are seeing a number of scenarios where, for example, children in one school are subject to one set of rules and another school has very different rules,” Jenne said.

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“This creates a great deal of confusion among parents and a great deal of anxiety and a lack of cohesive education plan moving forward.”

Read more: Alberta introduces new COVID-19 measures, offers $100 incentive to increase vaccine numbers

Alberta’s indoor masking requirements don’t apply to schools, so it’s up to school boards to set their own policies.

Trustees of Red Deer Public Schools also approved a motion expressing “significant concerns and frustrations on the decision-making process imposed on school divisions and the lack of leadership by the government related to mask use and other COVID health restrictions within schools, resulting in greater uncertainty and increased division within our communities and across the province.”

“It really does create a sense of division in the community where some schools are going above and beyond and others are looking to achieve the minimum, and obviously, that impacts parents and it impacts kids and likely may impact the overall delivery of classroom education if we do see outbreaks that could’ve been prevented,” Jenne said.

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

Rocky View Schools has a similar mask policy that states “masks for students and staff can be removed while engaging in instruction in a classroom.”

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Red Deer Catholic School Division also has a mandatory mask policy that allows for students to remove masks in classrooms.

A protest is planned at the Catholic school division office Wednesday morning.

Last month, public and Catholic boards in Edmonton announced that masks would remain mandatory in schools.

Read more: Exemptions given to Alberta rodeos, Calgary & Fort McMurray Pride events to serve liquor past 10 p.m.

A spokesperson for the education minister says health guidance has been provided to school authorities based on the advice of the chief medical officer of health and local school authorities have the ability to put additional measures in place that exceed provincial guidance.

Alberta Health said children have had very low rates of severe illness from COVID-19 compared to other health risks.

“Overall, less than half of one per cent of diagnosed COVID cases in school-aged children have required hospital care, and thankfully, there have been no COVID-related deaths in children. The risks of hospitalization for influenza and RSV for young children in a pre-COVID year is similar to what we saw for population risk of COVID last year in children under 12,” said Lisa Glover with Alberta Health.

“That being said, masking will not be universally required in schools but may be recommended as one of several temporary interventions for respiratory outbreaks in general.”


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