The Alberta government’s announcement that masks will be mandatory when students return to school has been met with mixed reactions from local parents.
“Some are really happy [and] some not so happy,” said Fiona Gilbert, Rocky View Schools (RVS) Board Chair.
On Aug. 4, Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange announced the new mandate intended to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in schools.
“Mask use in students in grades 4 to 12, as well as all school staff, will be mandatory when school returns for the 2020-21 school year,” LaGrange said.
Masks will not be mandatory for students in kindergarten to grade 3, LaGrange said, as proper mask fit and compliance is a challenge for that age group. Additionally, current medical evidence indicates children under 10 years old may be less likely than older children or adults to transmit the disease, she said.
LaGrange said staff will be required to wear a mask in situations where physical distancing isn’t possible.
Masks are required for students in “all shared and common areas,” like hallways and school buses, LaGrange said.
However, masks will not be mandatory inside classrooms when students are seated and distanced from the teacher, according to Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health.
“Though they can still be worn if a student or teacher chooses,” she added.
According to the Alberta government's school re-entry webpage on alberta.ca, there will be exemptions for students and staff unable to wear a mask for medical or other reasons.
To assist in the new guidelines, LaGrange said the Alberta government will provide every student from kindergarten to grade 12 with two reusable masks.
“We will also provide all of our teachers, support staff, school staff and bus drivers with two masks,” she said.
In total, more than 1.6 million reusable masks will be provided to 740,000 students and 90,000 staff across the province, LaGrange said. She added that additional single-use masks will be available at schools if students or staff misplace or forget their mask.
Canadian Shield – a Waterloo-based Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) manufacturer – is also donating 53,000 face shields for teachers, support staff, school staff and school bus drivers, she said, with the rest provided by the Alberta government.
“The use of face shields will be at the discretion of the individual staff members,” LaGrange said. “While face shields can help reduce exposure, they are not equivalent to masks...staff who choose to wear a face shield will still be required to wear a mask.”
Schools will also receive two contactless thermometers and hand sanitizer, LaGrange said.
According to Gilbert, RVS has received messages from parents in its jurisdiction since the mandate was announced. Gilbert said the feelings are “mixed” – parents pleased with the new mandate are glad their children will have an additional level of protection, she said, but some parents are concerned about how their children will breathe and eat while wearing a mask.
Gilbert added the board is appreciative of the government handing out masks.
"From a school division perspective, we’re appreciative of the clear guidance on public health,” she said
Any parents with questions can submit them using a form found at rockyview.ab.ca, Gilbert added.