While it's still early August, many people already have their minds on the upcoming school year. With schools set to reopen in September, students, parents, teachers and administrators likely feel a variety of emotions – relief for some, dread for others.
As the COVID-19 pandemic remains a very real threat to health and safety, the issue of schools presented a particular conundrum with seemingly no right answer. Open them, and you risk spreading the virus among students, who could pass it to teachers or bring it home to their families. Keep them closed, and you prolong the stress on parents that aren't full-time educators and may not be able to monitor their children's education while balancing jobs and other responsibilities.
After announcing school buildings would open in September, we feel the Alberta government made the right choice by subsequently announcing masks would be mandatory. The decision is no doubt unpopular in some circles, where mask mandates have become a political issue and are interpreted as an infringement on liberty. But with health experts continually saying masks reduce the spread of COVID-19, we feel it only makes sense to add that extra protection in schools.
How it will actually play out remains to be seen. Our staff have seen (admittedly dark) jokes online about how a child that goes to school with a Spider-man mask will return home with a Paw Patrol mask after a lunchtime swap. It's uncomfortable for adults that fully grasp the seriousness of the pandemic to wear a mask for an extended period. It might be even more challenging for a child or teenager, who may not fully grasp the severity of the risk of COVID-19.
Still, we hope the measure will achieve its goal of keeping schools safe. From the onset, we've been concerned about a second wave of the pandemic forcing a repeat of this past spring, when large-scale shutdowns forced people to stay in their homes and, in some cases, turn living rooms into classrooms.