INNISFAIL - While students in grades 4 and up across the region were under a mandatory mask mandate starting today (Sept. 16) after new restrictions were brought in last night, the two school divisions in the region had previously taken different approaches to masking in their facilities.
The 12,000-student Chinook’s Edge School Division (CESD) had previously decided not to implement mandatory masking in schools, unlike the 11,000-student Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools (RDCRS), which did so effective Sept. 7.
During their monthly meeting on Sept. 8, CESD trustees decided not to change the division’s current masking policy, which supports students and staff who wear masks or face coverings but does not make masking mandatory.
Prior to the Sept. 15 announcement mandating masks in schools, the UCP government had lifted the in-school requirement for masking, leaving it up to individual school boards to decide whether to require masking in classes and on school properties.
CESD superintendent Kurt Sacher said Sept. 8 that the division will be relying on the advice of Alberta Health Services and the chief medical officer of health when it comes to any possible changes or updates to the division’s current masking policy.
In addressing the decision to not implement mandatory masking at the time, Sacher said, “We simply do not feel we have the necessary medical expertise to justify going beyond what has been recommended by Alberta Health Services.
“It is important to note that we fully support those students and staff who choose to wear a mask in their school.”
The division had received “historic levels of feedback from parents, particularly with respect to masks,” he said.
Should provincial protocols change or if AHS advises that a particular school or community requires a modified masking approach, “we will respond swiftly with additional measures that they direct,” he said.
At the time, all parents and other visitors to any CESD school were required to wear masks. All students in the province had been required to wear masks when travelling on school buses.
Unlike in CESD, effective Sept. 7 masking was required by all students and staff in RDCRS in common school areas.
RDCRS superintendent Kathleen Finnigan said implementing mandatory masking in common areas in school buildings was “based on the medical evidence shared with us from Alberta Health regarding masking in public indoor spaces as a way to mitigate transmission.”
In classrooms, if students were front facing and seated in rows with spacing, students could remove their masks.
As of Sept. 16, masking is mandatory for students in Grades 4 and up across the province, as well as staff and teachers in all grades.
Schools that implement an alternate COVID safety plan can be exempted from mandatory masking, according to the province.