Calgary’s public and Catholic school districts are requiring K-12 students to wear masks when returning to school this September, expanding upon provincial guidance that mandates only Grades 4-12.
The Calgary Board of Education (CBE) made the
Friday after hearing concerns from parents about the ability for students to practice physical distancing, said Christopher Usih, CBE chief superintendent of schools.
“The nature of teaching and learning in classrooms is such that teachers and students are in close proximity with one another and it’s not always possible for us to physically distance students in classrooms,” said Usih.
“This extra level of care was necessary and consistent, quite frankly, with the chief medical officer who indicated where physical distancing isn’t possible, face masks are strongly recommended.”
All staff and students at Calgary public schools will have to wear a mask at school, including inside classrooms and public spaces such as hallways, bathrooms and learning commons.
Usih said there will be opportunities for students to take off their masks in designated break areas where physical distancing and other safety measures, like hand washing and sanitization, are in place.
The CBE is currently developing guidelines that will clearly identify when and where “mask breaks” will be allowed, in addition to supports for students and staff who are unable to wear a mask due to medical conditions.
Similarly, the Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD) has made the
to mandate mask usage in all grades.
CCSD said all staff, students and school visitors will be required to wear masks when physical distancing is difficult or when an individual is away from their cohort.
Both school districts said they will focus on education, rather than punishment, when it comes to enforcement.
“As we consider the re-entry of close to 60,000 students to our schools, it is important to consider that our students may have little or no experience with safety practices such as physical distancing and the wearing of masks,” the CCSD said in a statement.
“As we would with any other learning, it is important that we accept each student’s level of understanding and provide them with the teaching, guidance, coaching and encouragement needed to ensure the safety of themselves and their school community.”
Masks will also be required for personnel and students who travel on public transit or school buses at both districts.
The decision by CBE and CCSD comes shortly after the provincial announcement in early August that masks will be mandatory for students in Grades 4-12 when physical distancing isn’t possible.
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said students in K-3 are believed to be less susceptible to the virus and, therefore, won’t have to wear masks.
Since the United Conservative government announced K-12 schools would reopen, parents have raised concerns about the ability for their kids to physical distance.
Barb Silva, spokeswoman for the Support Our Students parent advocacy group, said the K-12 mask mandate corroborates those fears.
“I think it’s necessary but I also think it’s an admission that physical distancing in schools across Calgary is virtually impossible,” said Silva.
“Based on the evidence and recommendations we’ve been given since the onset of this pandemic, the first and most essential way to mitigate the transmission of the virus is through physical distancing and, second to that, is wearing a mask.”
She said this decision can bring “comfort” to worried families, but fails to confront the bigger issue at play, which is overcrowding in classrooms.
CBE’s Usih said introducing class size reductions would fall on the shoulders of the province and additional funding would be needed for schools to accommodate this.
Premier Jason Kenney said Friday there were no plans to expand Alberta’s masking mandate to K-3 students.
He said the provincial guidelines were based on the advice of Hinshaw and available data, which found “very little evidence” children under the age of 10 transmit COVID-19.
“There might be some bodies out there that decide that school trustees or city counsellors know better than Dr. Hinshaw and the office of the chief medical officer,” Kenney said. “If school boards wants to adopt additional protocols, they have the authority to do so.”
Bob Cocking, president of Alberta Teachers’ Association Local 38 representing Calgary public teachers, welcomed the expanded mandate saying it will make teachers feel more comfortable returning to the classroom.
“Most of the concerns we had at the beginning were around wearing masks, which wasn’t mandated before, so that helped alleviate some of those issues, as does now the wearing of masks for additional students from K-3,” he said.
In addition to mandating masks for all grades, the CBE said they are hiring 240 temporary full-time custodial staff to expand cleaning practices — notably disinfecting high-touch surfaces in schools.
Usih said each school will be provided a kit that includes acrylic barriers, floor decals, painter’s tape and posters to help with physical distancing. Staff will also be provided with reusable cloth masks, gloves, face shields and sanitizer.
The province previously announced all students and staff will be provided two reusable cloth masks. CBE recommends parents purchase additional masks if they are able.
Disposable masks will be available to students who arrive without one.
Prohibida la reproducción parcial o total. Todos los derechos reservados de Rubicon, Global Trade, Customs & Business Partnership, S.C., del Autor y/o Propietario original de la publicación. El contenido del presente artículo y/o cualquier otro artículo, texto, boletín, noticia y/o contenido digital, entre otros, ya sea propio o de tercero alguno, publicado en nuestra página de internet u otros medios digitales, no constituye una consulta particular y por lo tanto Rubicon, Global Trade, Customs & Business Partnership, S.C., sus colaboradores, socios, directivos y su autor, no asumen responsabilidad alguna de la interpretación o aplicación que el lector o destinatario le pueda dar.