Masks mandatory for staff, students Grades 4 to 12: Black Gold School Division

Black Gold School Division has reinstated enhanced health measures in their schools including making masks mandatory for Grades 4 to 12.

A special meeting to discuss COVID-19 protocols was held Wednesday and the Black Gold School Division's Board of Trustees voted to bring back the enhanced health measures.

Masks are required for all students and staff from Grades 4 to 12 in all common areas of school buildings where physical distancing is not possible. For students and staff in Kindergarten to Grade 3, masks are only recommended.

"In light of the rapidly increasing number of positive COVID-19 cases in the province, especially among young children, the Board felt it had a responsibility to re-introduce mandatory masking, along with continuing with other health measures, to keep students and staff safe in our schools," said Board Chair Devonna Klaassen in a statement.

Students can remove masks at their desks as long as they are front facing and have appropriate spacing.

Masks are not required during physical fitness or outside.

Indoor school sports and extra-curricular activities will continue, but students off fields or courts of play must wear masks. All spectators and coaches must wear masks indoors.

The school division says the rules come into effect immediately and will be enforced starting on Sept. 13.

“This is indeed a health decision that has been placed in the hands of education, and at the political level. Whether this is the right place for this decision to be made or not, it is our responsibility to set the parameters to protect the health and well-being of our students and staff,” said Klaassen.

"We are not medical experts, and when we are being asked to make impossible decisions of this nature, it can result in greater uncertainty and divisiveness within our school communities."

It's a point of criticism the Alberta Teachers' Association has made of the provincial government's approach, which officials say gives local authorities the ability to decide what's best for their community. 

"What we're seeing now is some schools having one set of rules and [you] could literally be across the street at a different school with another set of rules," ATA president Jason Schilling told CTV News Edmonton. "It's creating confusion and anxiety for students, parents, teachers and their families because it's a little bit of an unknown in certain areas."

He also said it makes the discussion more polarizing; according to Schilling, masks and other health measures taken by schools have been the subject of protests at trustee meetings. 

"I've never in my career ever witnessed that before."

Black Gold School Division is directly south of Edmonton and includes the municipalities of Beaumont, Calmar, City of Leduc, Leduc County, Devon, Thorsby, and Warburg.

The division has over 11,000 students in 29 schools.