Edmonton school boards want the authority to require masking as students prepare to head back to school

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The Alberta government needs to give school boards the power to require students to wear masks to protect them against COVID-19 this school year, say teachers and Edmonton’s two largest school boards.

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With less than three weeks to go before most schools in Edmonton open doors for the 2021-22 school year, the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) released a report Thursday, listing nine requests of government. Those include a call to reconsider the decision to stop centralized testing for the virus and most contact tracing, allow masking and distancing to continue, and provide funding for smaller class sizes and mental health supports.

“Certainly, the rapid development and mass deployment of effective vaccines have fundamentally changed management of the pandemic. However, until vaccinations are approved for and administered to students under 12 years of age, as well as unvaccinated and/or vulnerable staff and community members, vigilance and support will continue to be needed in schools as students return in the fall of 2021,” the report says.

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The association is also calling on the government to provide portable HEPA filters to clean the air in classrooms and funding for caretaking staff, cleaning supplies and equipment.

Parents in Edmonton’s two largest school districts will need to choose between online or in-class learning by Monday and the Alberta government has promised to release a guidance document for schools in mid-August.

The ATA’s call comes as both the Edmonton Public and Catholic school boards have written to the province asking for mandatory masking of students in Grade 4 or older and recommended masking for younger students.

“We ask that you respect school boards’ autonomy in determining local needs by ensuring provincial health orders permit divisions to implement measures such as mandatory masking if they determine such measures are appropriate to community desires and local conditions, as was ensured last year,” Edmonton public school board chair Trisha Estabrooks wrote in a letter to Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Education Minister Adriana LaGrange Tuesday.

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Estabrooks said Edmonton Public Schools needs to see the government’s plan by noon on Friday at the latest.

Both boards are also asking that rules be put in place requiring people with COVID-19 to isolate.

The Edmonton Catholic school board also sent a letter to Shandro and LaGrange on Wednesday, spokesperson Christine Meadows said in an email.

The letter itself has not been released but Meadows said the board would like to “minimally” see:

  • Mandatory masking of students (Grades 4-9) and staff in elementary and junior high schools and all students using yellow buses,
  • Maintaining the recommendation that all Kindergarten to grade 3 students wear masks,
  • Mandatory isolation for all positive COVID-19 Albertans, and
  • An expansion of the school immunization program to offer first and second doses for 12 to 18-year-old students and help reduce barriers to immunization.

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