Masks must be worn by older students when Alberta schools reopen this fall — but not necessarily at all times.
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange sent a message that allows for some discretion by teachers and students on Tuesday.
While the province is mandating the wearing of masks for all students and teachers in grades 4 to 12, mask wearing for youngsters in kindergarten to Grade 3 will be be voluntary, said LaGrange.
This means parents will decide whether their younger kids will wear masks to school, and teachers will have to keep an eye on whether these students wear them appropriately.
The provincewide approach to masks, as well as financial support for personal protective equipment, was welcomed by Red Deer Public Schools.
Board chair Nicole Buchanan said, “We’ve been hearing concerns from parents wanting to ensure their children will be safe at school. Without these measures, there was uncertainty with some families on returning to school.”
LaGrange announced that all students and staff in public, separate, francophone, charter and independent schools will receive two reusable masks from the Alberta government.
More than 1.6 million reusable masks will be distributed to 740,000 students and 90,000 staff, and additional single-use masks will be available at schools if students forget to bring their own masks in.
The minister said mask use will be mandatory for staff and teachers in settings where physical distancing cannot be maintained.
Students must wear them in all shared and common areas such as hallways and on buses. Exemptions will be made for students and staff who are unable to wear a mask due to medical or other needs.
Mask use for kindergarten to Grade 3 students will continue to be optional, as LaGrange said there could be difficulties with proper fit and compliance.
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said evidence suggests that children under age 10 may be less likely than older children or adults to transmit COVID-19.
Hinshaw said that Alberta’s policy on school masks was devised after studying the best available data from other countries.
Although all grade 4 to 12 students will be required to wear masks while mingling in the hallways, riding on buses and while working closely with peers and teachers, they won’t necessarily have to wear their masks inside classrooms all day, said LaGrange.
The education minister said that masks will not be necessary if students are sitting either two metres away from each other, or if they are not facing each other, even if there is less spacing between them.
“Teachers can make adaptations for whatever makes the most sense in the classroom,” LaGrange said.
Buchanan believes some additional questions parents have about discretionary situations, such as mask wearing in classrooms, should be resolved after they view emailed information and a 10-minute video that will be sent out to families by the public school district Friday.
“Our administration team has been working diligently on our playbook as to how we will best meet the health and safety needs of students and staff. We want to assure families that we are doing everything we can to keep everyone well.”
Chad Erickson, the public district’s superintendent, stated, “The more consistency we have across our schools and in the province, the greater confidence families can have that we are best addressing the needs.”
Red Deer’s Catholic Schools plan to comment on LaGrange’s announcement on Wednesday.