Masks required for all staff, Grades 4 to 12, according to Alberta Education Minister

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Masks will be mandatory for all school staff and almost all students in Alberta when they return to school in September, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced Tuesday morning.The decision is one of a massive number of adjustments to the back-to-school plan to keep staff and students safe in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, LaGrange said.

“New evidence has clearly shown that masks can play an important role in limiting the spread of COVID-19 in our schools,” LaGrange said.

“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. ”

Some of the key details of the announcement include:

  • All teachers and staff will be required to wear masks in settings where two meters of physical distance cannot be maintained.

  • Students in grades 4 to 12 will be required to wear masks in all public spaces and may choose to wear them seated in class.

  • Masks will be optional for younger students in Kindergarten to Grade 3. The move was made given that younger children are not at high risk of transmitting the disease, the province said.

  • Exemptions will be given to students and staff who cannot wear a mask due to medical or other needs.

  • Screening efforts will be expanded to allow faster access to results when the disease is suspected in a school.

To help cover costs, the Government of Alberta will provide two reusable masks for every student, teacher, school staff and bus driver in the province – 1.6 million reusable masks in total.

Schools will also receive single-use masks as a backup in case the reusable masks are forgotten or misplaced.

Each school will also receive two non-contact thermometers. School districts will share 466,000 liters of hand sanitizer.

Face shields will also be provided to all teachers, school staff and bus drivers, but LaGrange stressed these must be worn in addition to masks.

LaGrange said aid to schools would cost the government around $ 10 million.

“Since we are now enforcing masks for students and staff, we have now taken the extra step of providing these resources and paying for these resources,” she said.

Schools in Alberta were closed in mid-March when the pandemic took hold in the province. The government announced in July that it was prudent to reopen schools in the fall, but masks would not be mandatory.

Edmonton and Calgary have since required the use of masks in public spaces.

Inside the classroom

Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw stressed that the mandatory mask rule applies to common areas and masks inside the classroom should be worn depending on the circumstances.

“If the students or teachers interact in a way that is close and involves them working together, then wearing a mask is expected,” Hinshaw said.

“If the students are sitting in their desks, working quietly and not moving, and the teacher is away from them, wearing a mask is optional in this setting. ”

Later Tuesday, Edmonton’s public and Catholic school divisions are expected to release details of their back-to-school plans, offering a more in-depth look at how the Kindergarten to Grade 12 program will be delivered to approximately 150,000 city ​​students this fall. .

The province’s reintegration guidelines last month called on school divisions to consolidate classes where possible, implement physical distancing measures and stagger breaks.

Jason Schilling, president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, said he would closely follow the school division’s announcement on Tuesday.

Schilling said he would investigate how school divisions plan to follow guidelines without dedicated funding to limit class sizes as part of the government’s plan.

“So how will we keep a cohort as small as possible … and be able to maintain [physical] the distance within schools that we know to be large enough and overcapacity in some areas? “Said Schilling on Sunday.

The association, Schilling said, will also look into whether school divisions are setting aside money for a sufficient number of masks and hiring additional on-call staff to regularly deep clean schools.

Le Calgary Board of Education has published its back-to-school guidelines last Thursday, offering families a short-term online learning option. But the board warned that online learning would not give students the same opportunities or support as in-person classes.

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