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Masks to be mandatory for Grade 4-12 students and staff in September

Last Updated Aug 5, 2020 at 6:38 am MDT

EDMONTON (660 NEWS) – Education Minister Adriana LaGrange says mask use for Grade 4-12 students, as well as staff, will be mandatory in Alberta.

LaGrange made the announcement during an update on the province’s back to school plan Tuesday morning.

Alberta will provide every student and employee with two reusable masks.

Additional single-use masks will be available at schools.

LaGrange added more than 1.6 million reusable masks will be provided to 740,00 students, and 90,000 staff across the province.

“Since cancelling in-person classes in March and developing our school re-entry plan, we have been clear that we would continue to adapt our guidelines as necessary based on current medical advice. 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,” said LaGrange.

Alberta’s Chief Medical officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw clarified masks will not be required when students are in class, seated, and distanced from teachers and others.

“I am not making this updated recommendation lightly, but acting on the best current evidence available. While masks are important, I want to stress that they are only one of the many public health measures in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health of students, staff and families.”

Masks will be required in hallways, shared spaces where physical distancing is not possible.

Superintendent of the Calgary Catholic School Division, Dr. Bryan Szumlas said this is a helpful message especially following the outbreak at St. Francis.

“It’s not a matter of if a school or a district has a staff member or student who test positive for COVID-19, it’s a matter of when. Calgary Catholic’s when was last week.”

Szumlas added there will be challenges including helping special needs students.

“Wearing a mask may be irritating for them and they’ll be pulling it off. In situations like that we’re going to work closely with the staff, with the student, with the parents and will make an individual plan for their safety.”

While the Opposition NDP welcomes the news, they said it’s still not enough to protect students and staff.

Opposition leader Rachel Notley tweeted saying class size is a major issue, as is overall cleaning supplies and the amount of work being piled onto teachers and staff.

Health critic Sarah Hoffman agrees adding the province needs to properly fund education to be able to hire additional workers to coincide with smaller classes.