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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney updates media on measures taken to help with COVID-19, in Edmonton on March 20, 2020.JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

Calgary’s two main school boards are imposing the strictest mask rules in the country, requiring face coverings beginning in kindergarten and, for students in the city’s public school system, in classrooms during lessons.

The Calgary Board of Education and the Calgary Catholic School District released policies on Friday that will require all K-12 students to wear masks as part of their COVID-19 re-entry plans. The provincial government is requiring masks only for students in Grades 4-12.

The provincial rules and the Catholic board’s policy require masks in hallways and common areas but not in classrooms in most cases. In contrast, the Calgary Board of Education will require masks in classrooms whenever physical distancing isn’t possible, which the board acknowledges will include most traditional classrooms with a full class of students.

School mask policies have varied greatly across the country, with some provinces or local school boards requiring masks for higher grades and others, like British Columbia and Saskatchewan, recommending masks but keeping them optional.

Christopher Usih, chief superintendent of schools for the Calgary public board, said the decision was driven by parents.

“What we’ve heard from parents is concern around the inability to physically distance in classrooms,” Mr. Usih said in an interview.

Mr. Usih said even under the new policy, students will not be wearing masks for an entire day. They will be allowed to take breaks from their masks, though the details of what that will look like are still being worked out. He also said that if schools hold classes in larger areas, such as a gymnasium, where it is possible to keep students farther apart, masks would not be required.

“Are we expecting our youngsters will have a face mask on all day in school? No, definitely not,” he said.

“There will be breaks and there will be situations in a learning environment where it is not necessary for students to have masks on.”

Bryan Szumlas, chief superintendent of the Calgary Catholic School District, said the district decided to go further than the provincial guidelines because Calgary has had the largest number of infections in the province during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The school board is not requiring masks while students are at their desks during class.

He also noted that the city also has a mask bylaw that applies to public spaces, so children as young as two years old are already expected to be using masks while out in public.

“It doesn’t make sense that a young child who is in kindergarten to Grade 3 is required to wear a mask at the shopping mall or other public places, but then at school, you don’t have to wear your mask,” he said.

The Alberta government’s initial school plan, released last month, called for a “near-normal” school year and did not include a mask requirement.

The province announced earlier this month that masks would be required for all teachers, staff and students in Grades 4 and above, and that it would be distributing free reusable masks to facilitate that. The province and other local school boards are also recommending masks for younger students.

Premier Jason Kenney said the provincial rules were approved by the province’s chief medical health officer, who considered evidence suggesting young people may be less likely to transmit the virus as well as concerns about getting young children to wear masks.

“If school boards want to adopt additional protocols, they have the authority to do so, but the provincewide policy is based on the latest comprehensive scientific data as presented with the recommendations of Dr. [Deena] Hinshaw,” Mr. Kenney said at an unrelated news conference on Friday.

Dr. Amy Tan, a physician who teaches at the University of Calgary’s medical school and who has advocated for mandatory mask rules, said she was glad to see the stricter rules from the Calgary school boards.

“There was no zero-risk return-to-school plan, but why are we not doing everything we can to create a baseline that is the safest that we can reasonably accommodate?” said Dr. Tan, who is with the group Masks4Canada.

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