A product stall filled with free N95 respirator masks, provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, sits outside the pharmacy at this Jackson, Miss., Kroger grocery store, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

A product stall filled with free N95 respirator masks, provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, sits outside the pharmacy at this Jackson, Miss., Kroger grocery store, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Lifting mask mandate for schools based on best available evidence, says Alberta Education

Justice rules Hinshaw did not make decision

Rescinding the mask mandate for schools in February was recently ruled unreasonable, but Alberta Education says the decision was based on the best evidence available, including advice from Alberta’s chief medical officer of health.

“The Government of Alberta moved forward with a plan to safely lift public health measures, in line with other provinces and other countries, based on the best available evidence, including advice from the chief medical officer of health. We will continue to make public health decisions based on the evidence,” said Savannah Johannsen, acting press secretary for the Minister of Education in a statement.

In his Oct. 26 decision, Court of King’s Bench Justice Grant Dunlop ruled that the order rescinding the mandate was a decision by a committee of the government’s cabinet when it should have been made by the chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

He said the order was based on an “unreasonable interpretation” that the Public Health Act left final authority for public health orders to elected officials.

During a Feb. 10 press conference, when Hinshaw was asked what had changed in the last month or so to make masking for children no longer necessary, she deferred the question to Health Minister Jason Copping.

“The fact that Dr. Hinshaw declined to explain why she was removing the school mask mandate when a month earlier she recommended that students in all grades wear masks, and the fact that she referred questions to the Minister of Health who is a member of the Priorities Implementation Cabinet Committee (PICC), supports the conclusion that the decision to remove the school mask mandate was PICC’s decision, not Dr. Hinshaw’s,” Dunlop wrote in his decision.

Related:

Red Deer Public Schools will not tolerate bullying over masks

Dunlop also ruled that a Feb. 24 statement by Education Minister Adriana LaGrange did not prohibit school boards from requiring masks even though she said that school authorities cannot deny maskless students an in-person education.

“While Minister LaGrange’s statement on its face appears to prohibit school boards from imposing mask mandates, it does not do so, because the minister can only do that through a regulation, and the statement was not a regulation.”

Five families who were told their children faced severe health outcomes if they caught COVID-19, and Alberta Federation of Labour, challenged the order and LaGrange’s statement.

Dunlop ruled the applicants failed to prove a charter breach because the evidence did not establish that their children, or any children, are at increased risk of severe outcomes or complications from COVID.

Related:

ATA says government failed to consult with educators before eliminating masks in schools

Central Alberta school jurisdictions say they have followed government COVID guidelines.

Superintendent Kurt Sacher with Chinook’s Edge School Division said his division will continue to take direction from Alberta Health and rely on people with the expertise.

“Unless something is mandated as a guideline for safety reasons, we won’t be doing any additional precautionary measures,” Sacher said.

Schools are back in a rhythm that they haven’t seen for a while, he said.

“They’re very upbeat because they’re seeing the kids so regularly and moving forward. If it’s left to be optional, we would not move ahead with masks,” Sacher said.

Red Deer Public Schools said its focus has always been excellence in teaching and learning.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, our division continued with this focus, while following all guidelines and mandates directed by Alberta Education and Alberta Health,” the district said.

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