Province’s back-to-school plan doesn’t include masks

CALGARY — Education minister Adriana LaGrange is leaving health measures to school boards rather than introducing provincial guidelines.

“Measures like cohorting, masking and spacing will not be required except in an outbreak situation which Alberta Health Services will determine with our schools,” said Lagrange, at a Friday morning press conference.

“Everyone who wants to wear a mask,” she added, “must be supported to do so.”

LaGrange said school boards in the province know their school communities better than anyone else.

“Throughout the pandemic we have trusted local school authorities to make decisions that work for their schools and school authorities have the ability and the corresponding accountability for any additional local measures they may choose to put in place,” said LaGrange.

“This could include physical distancing, cohorting and mask requirements that may exceed provincial guidance,” she added, “and at this stage of the pandemic we believe such measures are best left to local authorities to decide for themselves.”

Alberta Teachers Association president Jason Shilling said he was hoping the province would provide a more structured plan rather than leaving decisions to administrators.

“You know one school could be doing something in a Catholic District and right across the street where their public counterpart is being doing something completely different,” said Shiling.

“That can cause a lot of questions,” he added. “It can cause some divisiveness and those are things that we just don’t need in the school system as we move forward into the fall especially after such a disruptive and challenging school year from last year.”

Jason Schilling

CBE ISSUES STATEMENT

The Calgary Board of Education released a statement about its back-to-school plans for kids returning to class September 1.

“We appreciate the clarity provided by Alberta Education in the updated 2021-22 school plan,” it states. “This information will help us to finalize a set of health measures that consider the CBE’s individual circumstances with enough time to have these measures in place for the start of traditional calendar schools on September 1. We will share an update with CBE families soon and look forward to welcoming students back in September.”

The Calgary Catholic School District’s chief superintendent Bryan Szumlas said he’s working with administration to formulate a back-to-school plan for kids to return safely.

“And I want to tell parents right now, please pack your mask with your child,” said Szumlas. “I like to think that is going to be in our resumption plan, it’s based upon four R’s, we’re going to be reasonable in our approach, there’s going to be times when masks are required so I’m telling you right now get your masks ready.”

Angela Gorner has two kids headed back to school in the fall and wants parents to have the final say on their kid’s safety at school.

“My kids don’t like wearing masks,” said Gorner. “They get anxiety from it, they have a hard time breathing, they’ve had bad dreams about wearing a mask, and I think it should be up to the parents to decide.”

Keith Hall has three school age kids and thinks school boards would have come up with their own back-to-school plans even if the province came out with stricter guidelines.

“Honestly we’ll probably do the same thing as last year,” said Hall. “My wife and I have had the opinion that a pandemic of the unvaccinated is a pandemic of the children too at this point.”

Dr. Michelle Bailey is the president of the AMA’s section of paediatrics and isn’t happy with much of the provincial back to school announcement.

“Not having the mask mandate or direction on cohorting in schools is very disappointing,” said Bailey. “While we do understand that masks come with some negatives, we also know that masks are very effective in indoor spaces in reducing the spread of COVID-19 and in particular this very infectious Delta variant.”

Dr. Bailey said the bottom line is adult immunization is the best way to protect children from COVID-19.

“Most children even if get COVID-19 do very well so we do want families to understand that there are many benefits to getting to school,” she said. “In the vast majority of cases, it will out weigh the risk of COVID-19 even with the decisions the government is making right now.”

LaGrange encourages parents to read the guidance documents and other helpful information here: www.alberta.ca/returntoschool

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