This week, Rocky View Schools approved and made public its back-to-school plans, which included no mandatory mask mandate amid skyrocketing COVID-19 cases across the province.
During a special board meeting on Aug. 26, the Rocky View Schools Board of Trustees proceeded with a motion recommending masks would be worn on a voluntary basis when students and staff return to class in September.
At the tail end of a nearly two-hour meeting, the board voted 7-1 in favour of the motion, with Ward 3 Trustee Melyssa Bowen providing the sole vote in opposition.
“Having surpassed 1,000 [daily new] cases in our province, I’m concerned for us to return to pre-pandemic operations, and I will not be supporting the motion,” Bowen said before the vote, adding other school divisions and post-secondary institutions have opted to go above and beyond government recommendations.
“[Both sides] want students to have as normal a school year as possible and I think we just disagree on what actions will achieve that.”
As active cases of COVID-19 continue to climb in the province, so too are the rates of anxiety regarding the virus, which seems to be overshadowing the usual excitement of the return to school.
Patty Sproule, Ward 2 Trustee, said her personal feelings of unease with the direction the provincial government has set out with regards to a reduction in public health measures, along with concern from parents in her district, have made the decision not to mandate masks a difficult one.
“I have heard from more parents in the last week regarding this issue than I have heard about anything else in the past four years,” she said. “I am left to concede that we as a board made a conscious and well-thought-out decision to follow the direction of the chief medical officer throughout the ups and the downs of the pandemic.”
The Calgary Board of Education and the Calgary Catholic School District have both elected to make masks mandatory in classrooms for staff and students, deciding not to wait for direction from the provincial government and Jason Kenney, who has been absent from the public spotlight for several weeks.
The void left in the province from the lack of public communication from the UCP and public health officials have put many Albertans in a difficult position.
Doctors in the province, on behalf of their colleagues and other frontline workers who have to bear the brunt of the rising caseload and hospitalizations, have begun providing their own updates to the public regarding the situation in hospitals.
Rocky View Schools has said that they will take their cues from the provincial government regarding the district's mandatory mask policy.
Throughout the pandemic, Alberta has consistently had some of the highest rates of COVID-19 infection in the country.
After a year of mismanagement, and now a total lack of public input – while Jason Kenney vacations amid a severe rise in COVID-19 cases – one must wonder if the safety of the students is a decision that should be left up to the premier and his ilk.
Alberta, now more than even, needs strong leadership and clear communication from our public officials.
The current guidelines in place have led us into a fourth wave of COVID-19. Following them now will only lead us further along that path.