Calgary

Masks will now be required for all K-12 students and staff at CBE and Calgary Catholic schools

All staff and students from kindergarten to Grade 12 will be required to wear masks in Calgary's public and Catholic schools, according to new guidelines released by the Calgary Board of Education and the Calgary Catholic School District.

Policy goes beyond provincial guidelines requiring masks from Grade 4 to Grade 12

A teacher gives a lesson to elementary school children in eastern France, where classes reopened in July. (Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images)

All staff and students from kindergarten to Grade 12 will be required to wear masks in Calgary's public and Catholic schools, according to new guidelines released by the Calgary Board of Education and the Calgary Catholic School District.

The masks are required in all areas of the schools, as well as buses and Calgary Transit. 

Bryan Szumlas, the chief superintendent for the Catholic District, says the decision was made based on the fact that Calgary has consistently seen higher case counts than the rest of the province and that masks are already mandatory in the city. 

"Third and finally," he said, "is we really value the input of our stakeholders, and our stakeholders have clearly told us that they would like to see mandatory mask wearing from kindergarten to Grade 12." 

Szumlas said it's going to be "very difficult, almost impossible" to maintain two metres between students in classrooms. 

He said they will work with students and staff who are unable to wear masks on a case-by-case basis. 

The CBE had a similar message.

"We are working on mask guidelines including support for students and staff who are unable to wear a mask due to medical conditions or other needs," reads an email sent to families by the CBE. 

"When staff and students take breaks from wearing a mask, it will be important for other measures to be adhered to like physical distancing, hand hygiene and sanitizing surfaces.

Christopher Usih, the chief superintendent of the CBE, also said the decision was made after hearing from parents. 

He said there will be specific guidelines laid out for when students and staff can remove masks and how to prevent the use of masks from interfering with the teaching process. 

Those guidelines could come as early as Monday. 

Calgary Catholic says masks must be worn unless students are working within their cohort or taking recess with their cohort and the integrity of the cohort is preserved, where physical distancing of two metres is possible, while eating or drinking and when engaged in physical activity with appropriate distancing. 

The new CBE and Catholic school district mandates go beyond provincial guidelines, which stipulate masks for all students from Grade 4 to Grade 12.

Parent concerns

Krystal Tait has two kids in the public school system — one going into Grade 4 and the other entering Grade 1 — and says she's happy about a return to classrooms. However, she's worried about the impact of masks, particularly for her childrens' ability to learn French in their immersion programs. 

"In my opinion, when learning any new language, whether it's French or English or any language, it's really important to be able to hear the teacher clearly, to hear how they are enunciating each word and each syllable of the word, to be able to see their lips and their mouth and how they're moving to form words," she said. 

Tait says she hopes students will be able to remove their masks when they're not moving about the classrooms, but she's also concerned about her children touching their masks and reducing the effectiveness of the covering. 

Justin Reti's daughter is entering kindergarten. He says he believes masks are necessary given the current circumstances.

But, he says back-to-school plans feel scrambled, especially for students entering the school system for the first time.

"As a parent that gives us stress. It gives children stress," Reti said. "I think if they had given administration time to go back to schools with teachers and set up proper protocols and procedures and communicate directly with parents from the individual schools, I think that would go a long way.

"So, potentially, delaying the start of school by a couple weeks and giving teachers paid time to do that."

Parent Cheryl Ross says she hopes the rules will help slow down the virus.

And, she says masks might lead more families to enroll their kids in online learning.

"I think that the numbers of students are going to go down. So I'm hoping and praying that the class sizes are reduced," Ross said.

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