Elk Island Public Schools requires all students, staff and visitors to wear masks at its schools as of Friday, unless an individual has a medical exemption.
The school division's board of trustees held a special meeting Thursday afternoon to vote on COVID-19 regulations for the coming school year, such as mandatory masks and proof of vaccination.
The board of trustees voted to "temporarily suspend" its previous policy, which stated masks were not required for students, staff and visitors from Grade 7 to Grade 12 if their community has seen more than 70 per cent of eligible people received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine.
"It is in the best interest of students and staff... to take steps necessary to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and in so doing, help avoid potential disruptions to learning that proved so difficult for our students during the past two school years," said board chair Trina Boymook in a news release.
Elk Island Public Schools is one the largest school divisions in the province, accounting for schools throughout Sherwood Park, Fort Saskatchewan, Strathcona County, Lamont County and the western part of the county of Minburn.
The vote for a mask mandate was influenced by rising COVID-19 cases, and decisions from other municipalities and school divisions to implement similar measures, Boymook cited.
Strathcona County's mask bylaw returns on Sept. 10. The Fort McMurray's public and catholic school divisions, and the rural school district in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, each will be implementing mask mandates, citing increasing COVID-19 rates.
Proof of vaccination voted down
The Elk Island Public Schools' board of trustees also voted against requiring visitors to show proof of vaccination at schools.
Several trustees spoke out against the requirement for proof of vaccine, citing conversations with community members who were vehemently against such a requirement. They also questioned its legality.
Trustee Harvey Stadnick (Fort Saskatchewan) was in favour of the requirement and tried appealing to those on the board who were opposed to the idea.
"When we have between 75 to 80 per cent of the people in the province who are being hospitalized for COVID because they are unvaccinated, how can we justify having people who are not vaccinated coming into schools where our K-6 students cannot be vaccinated?"
Boymook voted against the requirement, noting that staff aren't being asked for proof of vaccination and they're working in closer proximity to students than visitors or volunteers.
"Without having some sort of requirement that all our staff be also vaccinated who are spending a significant amount of time with our students, I'm having a little bit of a problem around that."
Stadnick also critiqued the Alberta government for downloading such decisions to the school board.
"The province is not leading us in this," he said. "They're leaving all of the decisions to local organizations to make their rules and people are scared to make a rule because there's backlash."
Trustees also defeated a motion that would have required all successful candidates in the 2021 school board election to be fully vaccinated by the time they are sworn into office.