by Stephen Dafoe
The Government of Alberta announced Tuesday morning that mask usage for Grade 4 to 12 students, and all school staff, will be mandatory when school returns for the 2020-21 year in all settings where physical distancing cannot be maintained. Mask use for Kindergarten to Grade 3 will be optional.
Masks will be worn in all shared and common areas, including hallways and on buses; however, there will be exemptions for students and staff who are unable to wear a mask due to medical or other needs.
Grade K to 3 are optional due to difficulties with proper fit in younger children and compliance in keeping them on.
The government says it will provide staff and affected students in public, separate, Francophone, charter and independent schools will receive two reusable masks and additional single-use masks will be available at schools if required. Additionally, school staff will receive one reusable face shield for their use in the schools at the discretion of the individual staff member.
“After reviewing the emerging evidence, it is clear that masks can play an important role in limiting the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Chief Medical Officer of Health for Alberta in a media release Tuesday. “I am not making this updated recommendation lightly, but acting on the best current evidence available. While masks are important, I want to stress that they are only one of the many public health measures in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health of students, staff and families.”
The government says about 466,000 litres of hand sanitizer will be distributed between all school authorities and each school will receive two contactless thermometers.
NDP Education Critic Sarah Hoffman said the move was a start. “The only reason the government has moved on this today is because of the significant public outcry when it comes to education,” Hoffman said. “This is one of 15 recommendations that have in our report that we issued last week.”
Hoffman said parents she spoke with found it odd that children would have to wear masks on city busses but not on yellow busses.
The NDP critic reiterated the opposition’s point that one of the effective measures globally has been limiting the number of students in a space and capping class sizes. The NDP previously recommended capping class sizes at 15 students.
“We need to make sure this government is funding education properly to ensure that we can hire additional staff, teachers, custodians, [and] educational assistants to make sure that our kids are safe and spread out.”
Publisher’s Note: This article was updated Aug. 5 to add comments from the NDP Education Critic Sarah Hoffman.