By Justin Seward
More than 1.6 million masks will be distributed to 740,000 students and 90,000 staff in Alberta schools, as the safety item is now mandatory for certain grades as per the Aug. 4 announcement.
Staff and Grades’ 4-12 students will wear masks in settings where physical distancing can’t be maintained.
Those areas include hallways and common areas.
Each staff and student will receive two reusable masks each.
Mask wearing is optional for Kindergarten to Grade 3 students.
“Mask use for younger children is a challenge due to difficulties with proper fit and compliance. In addition, evidence shows that children under 10 may be less likely than older children or adults to transmit COVID-19,” the release said.
“The safety of our staff and students continues to be my number one priority. Since cancelling in-person classes in March and developing our school re-entry plan, we have been clear that we would continue to adapt our guidelines as necessary based on current medical advice. These new safety measures will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our schools, and we will continue to work with our school authorities to ensure they are equipped for a successful start to the school year, said Adriana LaGrange, Minister of Education.
Ken Sampson is the superintendent for Holy Spirit School Division, which includes Bow Island’s St. Michael’s School, and the announcement did not come as surprise to him.
“We kind of anticipated this happening and in our view it’s a very good move,” said Sampson.
“In terms of PPE (personal protective equipment) and equipment, we anticipated something like this would be coming. What we were particularly pleased with was the fact that the government would be procuring this and providing it to the school divisions at no specific cost.”
Schools will be receiving 466 litres of hand sanitizer split between all school authorities, two contactless thermometers to manage student and staff health and staff will receive one reusable face shield and its use is at the discretion of the individual staff member.
“Schools will be well equipped and well stocked. And in the event there is a shortage at some schools, we’ll certainly be able to make those supplies and materials available on at need basis,” said Sampson.
Sampson says it was reassuring to hear that there will be expedited access to being tested as they will not have to wait for the 14 day if there is a negative result.
When Sampson was asked if a school has a Grade 3/4 split class, would the Grade 3s need to wear masks?
His response was “this would become a school operational decision.”
Sampson says for close proximity classes such as physical education (PE), one option would be to have much of the PE classes outside and the other scenario would be for the PE teacher to create activities that would minimize the close contact.
“Activities that would allow for physical distancing would be the first priority,” he said.
“But the other thing we’re looking at as well is creating cohorts, homerooms or groups of students that we would like to keep together as much as possible.”
Music and singing classes will not be an option as this point until there is further direction from the province, he added.
Sampson confirmed there would be no mask exemptions for students with asthma.
“I did consult with our medical officer of health in the south here, Dr. Vivien Suttorp, on this very question, and she concurred with me that it (the mask) doesn’t decrease the oxygen coming in, nor does it expel carbon dioxide,” he said.
Prairie Rose School Division welcomed the announcement.
“(We) welcomed the additional layer of safety for our staff and students,” said Reagan Weeks, PRSD’s assistant superintendent.
“We understand it will require an adjustment for our children to get used to wearing a mask. But we feel confident that they will be able to do so effectively and safely.”
PRSD would follow the same kind approach as Holy Spirit School Division in terms of teaching PE outside with social distancing and with asthmatic students.
However, music classes will continue with a focus on music appreciation, theory.
Singing, cheering and wind instruments are not moving forward at this time, said Weeks.
“We’re following the recommendations from provincial health officials and adjustments will be made to our plan as those come forward,” she said.