“Use it before you lose it”

AFL urges school boards to implement temporary mask mandates

EDMONTON - In a fiery letter to school boards around the province, Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan urged them to use their power to implement temporary mask mandates before that power is stripped away by Premier Danielle Smith and her UCP government.

“I’m urging you in the strongest possible terms, to ‘use it before you lose it,’” wrote McGowan in his letter to every school board trustee and superintendent in the province. “I’m talking, of course, about your power to re-introduce mask mandates to protect the health and safety of students and staff in your schools.”

McGowan reminded school board members that the Alberta Court of King's Bench recently ruled that school boards continue to have the power to institute temporary mask mandates in schools. He also pointed out that school boards have statutory responsibilities under both the Education Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act to keep students and staff safe.

“A growing number of countries around the world are labelling COVID-19 as an occupational disease that must be mitigated by employers in workplaces,” wrote McGowan.

“Given the growing evidence about the potentially disabling impacts of COVID-19, we agree with this conclusion and urge you, as employers, to take appropriate steps to mitigate the risk for both staff and students in your schools. The most obvious and sensible mitigation is the introduction of mask mandates – which have been shown repeatedly to dramatically reduce transmission (the most recent evidence comes from a study comparing 70 school boards in the greater Boston area).”

McGowan went on to argue that it is not enough for school boards to simply ask the new Chief Medical Officer of Health (CMOH) for guidance, as the Edmonton Public School Board (EPSB) is expected to do at an emergency meeting tonight.

“Help is NOT on the way. You are the last line of defense for students and staff in our schools,” wrote McGowan. “Please do the right thing – the thing that is actually supported by the silent majority of Albertans – and use your power to re-introduce mask mandates in your schools.”

McGowan continued by saying that “temporary mandates will help keep students and staff safe. They will also help keep schools open. And they will help avoid the kind of hospital capacity crisis that we’re currently witnessing in Ontario from happening here.”

McGowan concluded by acknowledging that Premier Smith and her UCP government might overturn temporary mandates, but said that schools boards should proceed anyway.

“Will Danielle Smith simply negate your decision with legislation or regulation? Perhaps. But, in the meantime, you will have bought your school's communities a few days or weeks of added safety. And the responsibility (and liability) for failures to protect kids and schools will be on them, not you. So, please, for the sake of our kids and your school communities, be brave and use your power before you lose it.”


Gil McGowan
President, AFL
(780) 218-9888