By KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on January 19, 2022.
More than one week after masks and rapid-testing kits began arriving at schools across the province, local school officials report the distribution of such items require continued coordination but affirm they are necessary to protect the wellbeing of students and staff.
“They continue to come in,” Medicine Hat Public School Division superintendent Mark Davidson told the News. “The test kits are fairly easy to distribute (but) the masks are more complicated because we’re sending them home so students can arrive at school or get on the bus with a mask, and then we give them a change mid-day.”
Students in the city’s public school division have been required to wear masks since the beginning of the 2021-22 school year after Alberta’s government announced in August a mask mandate for Grades 4-12. Masking for students in Kindergarten to Grade 3 has never been made mandatory by provincial government or health officials, but was left to the discretion of school boards. MHPSD chose to uphold masking for all ages with the goal of protecting students and staff from illness, as well as stopping the potential spread of COVID-19 cases.
“The guiding document we received, said that the practice of masking K-12 was ‘strongly recommended’,” said Davidson. “We’re an organization made up of educators, so when we read advice in a document from (Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer, Alberta Health or Alberta Education) which says something is strongly recommended, we accept that the words ‘strongly recommended’ are placed there for good reason and are built on research and study by people who are trained to engage in that research and study.”
Davidson acknowledges masking – in conjunction with the numerous other COVID-19 protocol students, staff and parents engage in – can be overwhelming, however he feels with the extra precautions, MHPSD has been able to deliver on the division’s main pandemic focuses.
“We function with three very important goals,” he said. “The first is to protect the health and safety of our students and staff. Second was to continue to provide high-quality learning to our students. Third was to do our best to prevent disruption of service for our community.
“Since the start of the pandemic, we worked hard to strike a balance between providing our students with a consistent quality education and opportunity to continue to do the things that are important parts of school life. We have maintained team play, league play and performances when many school jurisdictions didn’t… At the end of the day, I think we’ve been successful at striking a balance and keeping our schools moving and giving our children opportunities to engage with our community (and) be together, learn together, play together, because we’ve been mindful of the advice given by professionals in another field,” he said.