Alberta’s largest labour organization has failed in its challenge of the government’s decision to lift a mask mandate in classrooms.
The Alberta Federation of Labour, on behalf of five parents with immunocompromised children, had filed a request on Sunday for an emergency injunction to keep masks in place.
Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Grant Dunlop, saying there was “no evidence of irreparable harm,” dismissed the application Monday. Lawyers representing the union and the parents said they were planning to submit another request.
Students in schools were no longer required to wear face coverings starting Monday following an announcement by Premier Jason Kenney last week that the province would lift all pandemic restrictions in the coming weeks if COVID-19 indicators remain stable or trend downward. Children 12 and under also don’t have to wear masks in any setting.
The union was also challenging Education Minister Adrianna LaGrange’s announcement that it’s now illegal for school boards to bring in their own rules to override the province.
“Removing universal masking in schools forces many children to choose between their education and their health — and in some cases, their life,” said Sharon Roberts, a lawyer representing the union, in a statement.
“We are seeking an immediate pause of the decision to remove masking, as well as the incorrect assertion that school boards cannot continue their own mandates,” added co-counsel Orlagh O’Kelly.
Premier Jason Kenney took to Twitter to say he was content with the judge’s decision.
“Pleased to report that the Court of QB just threw-out the ridiculous application by the NDP Labour Federation to force kids to wear masks indefinitely,” his tweet said.
“Common sense is prevailing.”
While some have said they welcome the step toward normalcy after almost two years of kids going to school with their faces covered, others said they are anxious and worried over what has become a divisive, political issue in the pandemic.
Teachers will have the option of not wearing a mask if a provincewide mandate lifts as planned March 1. That’s when remaining school requirements, such as students having to remain with their cohort group, are also to end.
LaGrange said in a letter posted on her Twitter account last week that there has been a downward trend in the number of schools shifting to at-home learning due to COVID-19 outbreaks.
The Alberta Teachers’ Association has said community spread of the virus has not decreased significantly and the union is exploring legal options.
Trisha Estabrooks, chairwoman of Edmonton Public Schools, said the district was planning to tell parents that masks are still encouraged.
Some students were planning to walk out of classes Monday afternoon to protest at the legislature in support of teachers and health-care workers.
Brian Wawrow of Edmonton said his kids and their friends would go to school with their masks on.
“They all feel like they’re going to just be as safe as they possibly can and use their own common sense to keep protecting themselves and the kids that they’re around,” he said.
“My biggest fear’s my dad’s 89, So if my kid gives me COVID, then I can’t go see my dad. My wife’s parents are 70. The health-care system has been battered.”
Wawrow said he understands everyone is exhausted by regulations.
“We certainly are, but we want to see a proper end to (the pandemic) and not just pretend it doesn’t exist anymore.”
Kenney responded to the legal action on social media Monday morning, saying “The AFL is a legal affiliate of the NDP. Children have carried an unfair share of the burden during Covid. It’s time for the NDP and AFL to stop. Let kids be kids!”