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Alberta students unmasked and muzzled

The province’s lifting of the mask mandate for schools
leaves some questioning government actions

Some Alberta students are ditching their masks, and others are protesting to keep them. (Natasja Pitcher)

By Natasja Pitcher

AS OF FEB. 14, STUDENTS in Alberta are no longer required to wear masks in school, and that has left some students feeling unsafe in their own classrooms.

One Grade 12 student, Samuel Clark from Ardrossan Junior Senior High School, says he feels strongly that his and other students’ voices are being disregarded by the UCP government. He says he feels “helpless and ignored” with the recent changes in health measures.

Angry with the sudden mandate lift, he put together a Students Against Kenney campaign, and organized a walk out that drew dozens of high school students to the Legislature grounds to protest the UCP government’s decision.

“Student voices have been consistently ignored by the UCP,” Clark says. “Students have voiced their opposition, with no consideration from the government.”

Since starting the Students Against Kenney campaign, he says he has heard “students, staff, and parents from all over Alberta, saying how nervous they are about the lack of restrictions” in schools.

“Students and staff have lived through this pandemic for nearly two years,” Clark says. “We know what it’s like, and we know what does and doesn’t work. Students want to have a proper education that holds up to those of other provinces.

“We should have been consulted.”

‘This plan will
kill people’

As further restrictions are lifted, Clark says the UCP government’s plan to lift all remaining restrictions is eerily similar to the previous UCP’s “open for summer” scenario, and that he believes this round of mandate lifts to be “worse.”

“This plan will kill people. Nearly 4,000 Albertans are dead from this virus, and I blame Kenney for every single one.”

NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman says she is hearing from many people with concerns about lifting the mandate in schools – and that high school students are well aware aware of democracy, and respiratory health concerns.

“They would probably have a lot of insight to offer the UCP – if the UCP ever took out their earplugs and listened.

“Many people are concerned that the government didn’t consult with any of the school divisions, and it even appears that there wasn’t a ton of consultation with health officials and public health.

“There should have been some dialogue.”

The feeling she’s getting from constituents is “like there’s secrecy within the UCP,”  Hoffman says, “and that “it’s hard to trust the government.”

“In the last three years the UCP has broken a lot of trust.”

Students, staff, and family members are finding it hard to understand and accept the new mandate changes, because they were brought in so quickly, she says.

“Big changes are really hard to adapt to, especially when it’s a surprise. There are many people who have concerns that this wasn’t done in good faith or with science as the top priority.”

Hoffman argues that the “lack of clear communication, expectations, and guidelines” from the government is a large factor in creating such concerns in schools.

“It doesn’t need to be this way; we can work together to build a future for Alberta where students are safe at school.”

In doing so, Hoffman adds that Albertans need to be reassured that there is “proper ventilation in schools, proper PPE, and that we show staff, students, and the family members of all of them that we love them, we respect them, and we’re working to keep them safe.”

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