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School divisions move to mask mandates

·3 min read

KENDALL KING

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Following the Alberta government’s press briefing Wednesday evening, which set out new mandates for all public spaces in the province, two local school districts – Medicine Hat Catholic Board of Education and Prairie Rose Public Schools – will move to mandatory masking for all educators and students in Grades 4 and up.

This comes after both districts chose not to implement a mask mandate at the beginning of the school year. When asked why this decision was made, PRSD superintendent Roger Clarke explained his division has “many different communities that (they) serve and some of the communities had no reported COVID (at the beginning of the school year), and so it didn’t seem reasonable to put everybody under the same rules when there may or may not have been COVID in their school.”

He highlighted that Prairie Rose has followed all Alberta Health Services mandates and requirements thus far. This included having students wear masks on buses, suspending all large indoor gatherings and encouraging students and educators who were feeling unwell to stay at home, but did not include mandating masks inside the school.

MHCBE reports on its website that it followed similar procedures leading up to Wednesday’s announcement; no spokesperson was available for comment.

The new mandates will result in students having to wear a mask at all times in schools, unless they are seated at their desk and appropriately distanced from others. If students need to work in close proximity with each other, they will need to be masked. Educators will be required to wear masks at all times during the school day.

The mask mandate is aimed at reducing the number of COVID cases and limiting school transmission. Six of nine schools within the Catholic division have confirmed active COVID-19 cases, as do three of four schools operated by Prairie Rose.

Members of the community have been pushing for more action to stop the spread. An open letter sent to the superintendents of MHCBE and PRSD earlier this week from parents, health-care workers and others calls for contract tracing within schools.

MHPSD is also dealing with a rise in active cases. Last week Mark Davidson, superintendent for MHPSD, confirmed that all schools within the division had active cases.

Davidson, whose schools have required students to wear masks since the beginning of the year, says while he and his associates are pleased with the new mandate, they “still believe the school jurisdictions would be better prepared to serve students if contact tracers and up-to-date data were still available (to them).”

On July 29, AHS stopped notifying school divisions of positive cases, meaning that unless self-reported, staff or students who tested positive could have still been attending school.

Clarke summarized that his division and others will continue to take “the actions necessary to mitigate the spread of COVID,” but emphasized that community spread is also a concern; a reminder that following AHS mandates both within and outside of schools is the best response to stop the spread.

KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News

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