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Editorial: Masking in schools

A year ago, our newsroom wrote an editorial commending the Rocky View Schools (RVS) board of trustees for taking a proactive approach to preparing students for the upcoming school year. What a difference a year can make.
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A year ago, our newsroom wrote an editorial commending the Rocky View Schools (RVS) board of trustees for taking a proactive approach to preparing students for the upcoming school year.

In their final meeting before the 2020-21 school year, trustees approved staggered start dates and an additional $2 million from their reserves to hire additional custodial staff. RVS' back-to-school plan also gave families flexibility when it came to learning from home or attending classes in-person. We wrote about how these measures helped "put our minds at ease" and showed the division was taking COVID-19 seriously before an unprecedented return to school.

What a difference a year can make.

During a special board meeting Aug. 26, RVS' trustees voted 7-1 to approve a back-to-school plan that ignored the concerns they expressed so seriously 12 months ago. The plan, which RVS touts as being in line with provincial guidelines, does not include mandatory masking, social-distancing or cohorting protocols in schools. 

With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations once again surging in Alberta, RVS' back-to-school plan comes across as tone-deaf and irresponsible. A large percentage of RVS' students are not vaccinated, given their age or their family's position on the matter, and are still at risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19 throughout the community. Without proper protocols, this risk is heightened.

It begs the question why trustees changed their tune from last year. Is it because it's an election year? Was there some political persuasion from local MLAs, who encouraged their constituents to submit their thoughts on mandatory masking to their trustee prior to the meeting?

Public response to RVS' back-to-school plan has certainly been mixed. While many parents applauded the decision, citing the extra "freedom" it gives students, others have criticized the division for potentially risking the health of staff and students.

We fall in the latter camp. We think RVS should have followed in the footsteps of the Calgary Board of Education and Calgary Catholic School District, and continued to enforce the practical COVID-19 protocols they implemented last year.


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