June 18th, 2024

Lethbridge School Division unveils re-entry plan


By Dale Woodard on August 20, 2021.

With the new school year right around the corner, COVID protocols, masking and cohorting have been a divisive force in the community.
As the Lethbridge School Division unveils its re-entry plan for the 2021/2022 school year, superintendent Cheryl Gilmore and board chair Christine Light have done their best to strike a balance addressing all concerns and opinions.
“We have a variant of beliefs and opinions as to what is essential. It’s not just the physical needs of our students, it’s also the emotional the mental well-being of our students,” said Light Thursday morning at the Education Centre to run over the finer points of the re-entry plan.
“When the province laid our their re-entry plan last week, they set a bar where masks are not necessarily mandated in schools, but they’re mandated on the buses. That is a provincial decision, not something we can alter. When the board gathered with our executive council to work through the plan the province has set forth, what we were tasked with was bringing the decisions into the context of our community.”
Light noted the masking perspectives have run the gamut.
“We have heard from parents and staff and students that they whole-heartedly support the wearing of masks,” she said. “Some have asked for it to be mandated throughout day in class, in common spaces and outside. Some have asked for choice of parents and students to make the decision, both in class, common areas and outside.”
Some parents have asked for no masks at all, said Light.
“So it’s definitely a difficult position that we found ourselves in because there isn’t a one-size-fits all solution.”
Light said there is a differentiation between elementary, middle and high school and one of the driving forces of that was the ability to get vaccinated.
Light said there is more freedom for high school students to make their decision as to whether or not to mask. 
“That was was decided upon because those students have the ability to choose to get vaccinated or not and that would be a highly vaccinated population within our community.”
Middle school is a bit trickier because there are parts of that community who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated and others who can be vaccinated, said Light.
“So we wanted to take a balanced approach for our middle school students. We felt it was essential to protect the students and offer them a feeling and and environment of safety so they could have the freedom to attend school. So we made the decision for the students to be masked outside of their larger class cohorts. For example, in option classes where different classes would be coming together and in common spaces.”
But within classrooms, students are not being required to mask, said Light.
“That is the choice of the student and that is the choice of parents as well. I think that’s really important because we know that mental health of students has taken a hit.”
With elementary students ineligible to receive vaccination, Light said the board has received several letters from parents worried about their children going to school and not being protected. 
“Those are valid concerns,” she said. “We’ve also had perspectives of parents wanting choice and fighting for the mental wellness and the mental health of those students and those are valid concerns.
“We made the decision to mandate masks in common spaces. It seemed only natural as students are mandated to wear masks in transportation. It can flow through into our hallways and then in the classroom they’re free to make choices to wear masks.”
Gilmore said the primary communication since the province’s announcement last Friday has centred around masks in schools.
“I’ve been in touch with Christine and most of our communication has been about masks and protocols on both ends of the continuum,” she said. “Our plan tries to take into consideration all mitigation strategies and find that balance with the other concerns which have been expressed about mental health and social well being. It’s trying to strike a balance.”
The re-entry plan invites feedback and a formalized feedback mechanism will be out near the middle of September, said Gilmore.
“So the board is really interested in getting feedback from their stakeholders.”
The re-entry plan can be viewed at https://www.lethsd.ab.ca/download/361500

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