On August 4th, 2020, the Education Minister and the Chief Medical Officer of Health announced that students in Grades 4-12, all school staff and teachers will be required to wear masks while at school in order to prevent the transmission of Covid-19. At this time, masks are not required for Kindergarten to Grade 3 students.  

The Minister of Education stated that the schools will be provided with 2 reusable masks for each student, school staff, and teacher. If those masks go missing, schools will also have a backup supply. School staff and teachers will also be supplied with Face Shields but masks will also be required while wearing them. Schools will also be given hand sanitizer and two contactless thermometers to be used to manage the health of students and staff at the discretion of the school authority. Some school boards are also looking at using Plexiglass barriers in high traffic areas. 

Masks only need to be used when social distancing cannot be enacted and outside the classroom (hallways, buses, common areas). To clarify, this means that masks are not required when “students are seated and the teacher is distanced from the students.”

During the announcement, a reporter asked about classroom sizes: “If the students are less than 2 meters apart does that mean they have to wear masks in the classroom all the time?” To answer this question, Dr. Hinshaw referred to her Guidelines for school authorities that recommended flexible seating options, and if 2 meters cannot be maintained, have students not face each other. She expanded on this by stating: “If students are seated in their desks, working quietly and not moving around and the teacher is distanced from them, mask-wearing is optional in that setting even if they are slightly less than 2 meters apart.”  

This can be interpreted to mean that if the students are interacting with each other, or with the teacher, or participating in group activities that involve close proximity, they would have to wear masks during those occasions throughout the day.

Another reporter asked about the logistics of taking masks on and off frequently throughout the day. She wondered if that process would increase hand-to-face contact and increase the chances of illness transmission. Dr. Hinshaw recommended using hand sanitizer at those times. 

A couple questions that I would have if I was teaching in a public school classroom is: how much time out of my school day is going to be spent, just sitting and not interacting with each other? And also, how much of my school day is going to be spent cleaning and sanitizing our hands? These suggestions seem unrealistic to me, and it makes me think of the students who have a hard enough time as it is sitting still during the school day. These new regiments are only going to exacerbate their anxieties and other learning challenges. 

To further this point: facial expressions (which will go unseen under the masks), close face-to-face interactions and touch, are all part of the learning process. If they expect children not to ever be face-to-face, or to touch or High 5, they are sadly mistaken. I understand that the Minister and Dr. just want us to try our best to follow the Guidelines and they recognize that there is not ever going to be a no-risk management plan for dealing with Covid, but teachers are going to be stressing out, trying to make sure everyone is following all these rules all the time. They will be more focused on the procedures than on teaching, and it will be hard for them not to display their anxieties over these new rules. Teachers will likely want to limit close interaction time as much as possible to avoid the use of mask on-off procedures and this is unfortunate because interacting is the best part of learning! 

One question I had, like many other parents is, what happens if a student forgets to put their mask back on when entering into a close contact situation. Or what happens if a teacher forgets to remind their students to put the masks on? It is so habit for us to not have to use them when being in close contact with others and a teacher has many new learning curves at the beginning of the year, including all these new Covid procedures. It is going to take a lot more than “a few days” to develop this new habit, as was stated by the President of the College of Alberta School Superintendents who participated via telephone during the news conference. Will the student or teacher get reprimanded? What happens if a student refuses to wear a mask? Will they get sent home? Will the parents be charged with failing to comply? We have seen reactions similar to these across the globe. 

What happens if a student is unable to wear a mask? What if they have anxiety, or a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a mask? Do they need to get a doctor’s note? What will the reaction of other students be if they see one of their classmates without a mask? This could lead to a whole new level of bullying. These are questions that many Albertans have, but so far, these questions have been unanswered.

Another statement that Dr. Hinshaw made, brought up some concerns for me. She said, “I strongly recommend that all Albertans wear masks in indoor spaces where distancing cannot be maintained, regardless of age. However we also know that schools are unique settings where special measures are needed to mitigate the risks of exposure.” This brings up a couple questions: Why “regardless of age” in all indoor spaces, but for schools, just Grades 4-12? As far as my experience goes, the younger children in a school are more likely to get sick than older students because they have a less-developed immune system. And in a school, when one student gets sick, it spreads like wildfire. Even if students do not sit face-to-face, the germs will still spread. 

But according to Dr. Hinshaw, children are less likely to pick up an illness from another child, and are more likely to get sick from an adult. They are also less likely to give a sickness to an adult. She also said children under 10 are less likely to have antibodies. If children under 10 have less antibodies, doesn’t that mean they are more likely to get sick? Also, I don’t know about your experiences, but for me, I got sick a lot more when I was a child than I do now and my children got sick a lot more from other children in their daycare than they did when they were at home. This statement does not seem to add up. 

It seems unclear to me, and many other Albertans, if Dr. Hinshaw and the Education Minister really understand Covid 19, how to prevent it, and how classrooms actually operate. This new school year is going to look very different than it has in the past. No longer will it be a happy place, full of play, laughter. There will be no soft surfaces in classrooms like rugs or bean bag chairs, there will be no assemblies, gym classes will need to be held outside and only social distancing sports will be allowed (badminton over wrestling) and students will not be allowed to share sports equipment. In food classes, students may prepare the food but it cannot be shared with any students or staff. No singing or wind instruments can be used. It will be a rigid, sterile environment where students are expected to just sit quietly at their desks and not interact with each other or their teachers. School is sounding more and more institutional to me, uninspiring, unimaginative instructional facilities… These are directly from the Guidelines delivered by the Alberta government.

There are many different views and theories on the School Re-entry plan but what I think is important to realize is that the question at hand is not: Is the government evil? Or is this right or wrong? The point is: This IS happening. Right now! It is not some futuristic dystopia or a crazy conspiracy theory that some guy in his basement put together. It is reality. A sad, dark reality… 

If this is not the type of school you envision for your children, let me tell you: there are other options. You could homeschool your child or have a Certified Teacher teach your child from their home. Many teachers are looking into this as a change in their careers. For some, it is because of budget cuts, for others, they do not wish to go back to this new type of classroom. Whatever their reasons are, there is a surplus in teachers and parents who are offering their services and skills to help teach other people’s children in their homes. I am one of these teachers. If you are located in Camrose, give me a call and we can discuss options for your child.

Heather Harris-DeMelo


Heather is an Alberta Certified Teacher with 5 years of experience teaching in public school boards. She offers Private Day Home and Education services through Tracing Talent. Contact her today to set up a meeting to discuss the care and education needs of your child!

Call 780-226-5956