Alberta teachers say they will be watching Premier Danielle Smith’s efforts to stop the use of masks in schools.
On the weekend Smith said in a public statement that her government “will not permit any further masking mandates of children in Alberta’s kindergarten to Grade 12 education system.”
“The detrimental effects of masking on the mental health, development and education of children in classroom settings is well understood, and we must turn the page on what has been an extremely difficult time for children, along with their parents and teachers,” Smith said.
She directed government ministers to alert her to any legislative or regulatory changes that may be necessary to reaffirm or clarify the government’s full authority with respect to masks in schools.
Jason Schilling, Alberta Teachers’ Association president, said taking away masks as an option is short-sighted and irresponsible.
“We don’t know what the future’s going to hold. We don’t know how COVID is going to adapt. We need to make sure school boards have access to all the tools,” Schilling said.
The ATA advocated for the use of many different protocols to keep students and staff in schools protected- https://t.co/rL8Zlmeo6L
Removing one of these tools is shortsighted, how can the Premier determine down the road there won't be a need for masks to keep people protected? https://t.co/FP5nNZGRIt
— jason schilling (@schill_dawg) October 29, 2022
Dr. Sam Wong, president of the pediatrics section of the Alberta Medical Association, said he did not know of any evidence that indicates the use of masks in school have been detrimental to kids.
“The majority of kids who I’ve talked to have never had problems with masking. They’ve adapted to masks much better than I think adults have adapted to masks,” Wong said.
He said there was a huge reductions in the number of viral infections in the last two years when people were isolating and masking. In recent months when masking was not mandated, there’s been an uptick in infections, and another increase is expected in this winter based on what is happening in the United States.
“We do know masks do work. I’m not saying we need it right now, but if things get worse, it’s problematic and there’s lots of transmission, and the health system is overwhelmed, it may need to be looked at as a possible option,” Wong said.
Smith also directed the justice minister to look at possibly appealing a Kings Bench Court decision regarding masks.
Last week the court ruled that the government’s decision to rescind the mask mandate for schools in February was unreasonable. Justice Grant Dunlop ruled the order rescinding the mandate was a decision by a committee of the government’s cabinet when it should have been made by Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw.
The ATA says the chief medical officer of health, government officials and school boards should be taking this time to identify and implement measures, such as enhanced ventilation and promotion of mass vaccination, to prepare for the arrival of the next variant of COVID-19 and other potential infectious diseases.
“We’ve been advocating throughout the pandemic about making sure that we have everything at our disposal to keep safe our students and staff working in our buildings,” Schilling said.
He said in recent weeks illnesses have been on the rise at schools and the province needs to be proactive, as well as recognize other issues like reducing class sizes, proper funding for public education and addressing the complex needs of students that brought 5,000 protesters out to the legislature on Oct. 22.
“I think government needs to refocus their time and energy on the things Albertans are telling us are really important for our schools today.”