With rising COVID-19 numbers, local school divisions are exempt from provincial mask mandates and will make their own choices on best practices.
Some school divisions, such as the Edmonton Catholic School Division, have decided to mandate mask usage for all students and staff, a change from its initial back-to-school plan.
In the South Peace, the Grande Prairie Catholic School Division (GPCSD) has decided to stay on course with its back-to-school plan and will not mandate masks.
“We're certainly willing to support and respect anybody who wants to wear a mask,” said Jessie Shirley, GPCSD acting superintendent.
The safety standards are very similar to when students returned to classes in the spring, she said.
“That was the messaging that we gave to teachers because we had routines and safety measures already put in place, and we wanted that easing into normal routines as we started the school year.
“Our position is that the province has the data and the province has the experts and if the province feels that mask mandating is not a requirement in the schools, they would have the data and the experts to back that up,” said Bob Stewart, Peace Wapiti School Division (PWPSD) superintendent.
“We need to trust them that they're providing us the correct answers,” he said.
“I think that we're trying to respect and support everybody, but as I say that (it) means everybody -- from those that feel everybody should wear a mask and (practice) social distancing to those that may be struggling a little bit with getting vaccinated and maybe aren't as supportive with masking,” said Shirley.
She said that the division will adhere to provincial mandates and “keep its eyes and ears on what is happening”.
“Keep in mind that the back to school plan is evolving, and as we do choose to make changes or as the province, gives us mandates that plan will change as well.
“The document is good today, but we will be updating it with each, sometimes passing day, and sometimes within the week and within the month, so it's a work in progress,” said Shirley.
Restrictions could be added to schools that have an outbreak and then public health will mandate restrictions to those sites, said Stewart.
Students and staff who use buses will be required to mask up as per provincial requirements.
Alberta Health Services (AHS) is hoping to make vaccines available in schools the week of Sept. 7, according to the GPCSD back to school plan.
Vaccines will only be available to students born in 2009 and earlier with a signed consent form from parents.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be available to students who have never had a COVID-19 vaccine or had their first dose a least three weeks prior, said AHS.
Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News