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UPDATE: Red Deer Public Schools board of trustees frustrated by government’s ‘lack of leadership’

Students can remove masks in classroom if they are front facing and seated in rows with spacing
Students at Red Deer Public and Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools will be able to remove their masks in the classroom, as long as they are front facing and seated in rows with spacing. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Red Deer Public Schools is taking aim at the Government of Alberta for its “lack of leadership” related to mask use and other COVID health restrictions within schools.

On Friday, the Government of Alberta announced it is reinstating a provincewide mask mandate in all indoor public spaces and workplaces, except classrooms, where decisions are being left to local school boards.

In a statement signed by board chair Nicole Buchanan and superintendent of schools Chad Erickson, Red Deer Public expressed “significant frustrations on why school boards were put into this position of making decisions of this nature and further resulting in division across communities in the province.”

The lack of leadership by the government related to mask use and other COVID health restrictions within schools, has resulted in “greater uncertainty and increased division within our communities and across the province,” RDPS said in the statement released Monday.

Both RDPS and Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools have updated their school re-entry plans based on the most recent COVID restrictions – both plans come into effect as school starts Tuesday.

RELATED: Alberta announces temporary COVID-19 measures

In both divisions, staff and students, from pre-kindergarten to Grade 12, will be required to wear masks on buses, in all common areas in school buildings and locations where physical distancing is not possible. But students will be able to remove their masks in the classroom, as long as they are front facing and seated in rows with spacing.

“These adjustments are based on the medical evidence shared with us from Alberta Health regarding masking in public indoor spaces as a way to mitigate transmission,” RDCRS superintendent Kathleen Finnigan said in a statement Sunday.

Other changes for both divisions:

  • Individuals who are unable to wear a mask will require a doctor’s note. Families will have to work with school administration on how this will apply to their child.
  • Masks are not required when outdoors or during physical activity for both students and staff.
  • Rentals of facilities and schools will remain operational – masking is mandatory for all rental groups.
  • School sports will continue with masking requirements in place for students who are off fields of play. All spectators and coaches will be required to wear a mask.

RDCRS also announced, large gatherings of students including assemblies will be paused. Cohorting will not be required at this time, but schools will examine what cohorting may look like and how to operationalize if it becomes needed.

Alberta Health Services is no longer providing close contact tracing, Finnigan said, adding schools are only made aware of cases by individuals self-disclosing.

“If schools are made aware of a positive case within a classroom, they will inform affected families. Please note our schools may not be aware of all cases of COVID-19,” she said.

RDPS said measures will be reviewed and amended by the board of trustees on a regular basis and as needed, being responsive to provincial health restrictions and the needs of the community.

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Sean McIntosh

About the Author: Sean McIntosh

Sean joined the Red Deer Advocate team in the summer of 2017. Originally from Ontario, he worked in a small town of 2,000 in Saskatchewan for seven months before coming to Central Alberta.
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