Classes are about to begin across the Edmonton region and school divisions are taking different approaches in their efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including whether students and staff will be required to wear masks.
The provincial government relaxed many public health restrictions over the summer — removing mask requirements for most places except public transit and school buses, capacity limits for social gatherings, and physical distancing requirements. However, some school divisions, like the Edmonton Public School Board (EPSB), have instituted their own restrictions, noting the danger the virus poses to children under 12 who are not yet able to get vaccinated.
EPSB is one of a few in the area fully mandating masks be worn by students, staff, and visitors in all areas of schools, with a few exceptions. The board's 2021-2022 Back to School Plan notes that a survey conducted by the board found that 96% of students and 92% of parents said masks were important for feeling safe, and that mandating them would allow schools to bring back activities that were previously suspended during the pandemic.
"With the extra level of safety that masks provide, we can reintroduce such things as field trips, volunteers and special in-person events," says the plan.
Some divisions are also considering a recent uptick in new cases, including among school-aged children.
The provincial government reported 7,074 new cases between Aug. 23 to 29, bringing the total active cases to 11,426, the highest since May 24. Of the new cases, 1,348 were among Albertans five to 19-years-old.
Edmonton Catholic Schools initially planned to not require masks for students from kindergarten to Grade 3, and only require masks in common areas outside of classrooms for the rest of students. However, on Aug. 30, its back-to-school plan was updated to make masks mandatory for all students in both classrooms and common areas.
"Since the release of our Back to School Plan on August 16, there has been a significant upward trend of COVID-19 cases among school-aged children," says an update to the plan.
St. Albert Public Schools and Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools also updated their plans to include stronger restrictions, including requirements that students and staff wear masks in all areas inside schools.
"In the past two weeks, daily COVID cases have tripled in St. Albert," St. Albert Public Schools said in an Aug. 30 press release. "As positive cases continue to rise across the province, our re-entry plan will now include masking requirements in an effort to make sure our return to school is as safe as possible."