EDMONTON – Alberta is largely leaving school boards to their own devices when it comes to implementing COVID-19 health measures in classes this fall.
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw detailed the province’s plan for back to school this year in an update Friday morning.
WATCH: Hinshaw gives update on COVID-19 in Alberta, LaGrange talks back-to-school
The pair announced that the province would not be mandating masks in Alberta schools, instead allowing individual schools and boards to decide what measures, if any, they’d like to put in place.
“It was my belief… that there needed to be local input and flexibility because it’s really those who are most impacted by the decision who need to inform weighing out some of those risks and benefits,” said Hinshaw.
Masks will be required if students are taking the bus, though.
While masks aren't required in schools, they're mandatory on school busses. Education Minister LaGrange says measures like cohorting & masks aren't required unless in outbreaks. She adds, anyone who wants to wear a mask must be supported to do so. Says it's kids/parent's choice.
— Saif Kaisar (@StaySaif) August 13, 2021
Field trips, extracurricular activities, and international programs have been given the green light.
“Parents, students, and school staff can look forward to a normal school year this September,” said LaGrange.
Earlier in the week, the Calgary Board of Education announced masks will be mandatory for students in its schools.
CBE students and staff will be expected to use a daily checklist to determine if they should stay home, and nobody should go to school if they feel sick.
There will also be enhanced cleaning measures, classroom cohorts for K-6 students, and no visitors allowed at the start of the year.
The Calgary Catholic School Board said it hasn’t made a blanket decision on COVID-19 protections, but was waiting for more guidance from the province.
Alberta is, however, going to implement a province-led vaccination campaign in schools, to help get more kids in grades 7 to 12 vaccinated against the virus.
It comes as teachers and advocates across the province raise concerns about the lack of details going into the school year.
The Alberta Teachers Association offered a list of nine recommendations for measures in schools, including keeping mask mandates and distancing rules to protect kids who haven’t been vaccinated and making sure online learning is still available for those who cannot come into class.
ATA President Jason Schilling noted kids are still vulnerable.
“All elementary students and half of secondary students remain unvaccinated. This is an incredibly large group of children left vulnerable, especially with the number of variant cases rapidly growing in Alberta,” he said.
The association also wants to see a mass rapid testing program for schools and more substitute teachers be hired to cover regular staff should they need to isolate.
For more information on COVID-19 and back to school, head to our special coverage page.
-with files from Stefanie Lasuik