These are unprecedented times, and they’re not being made any easier by Jason Kenney’s callous justification for his government’s half-baked School Re-Entry Plan, or Dr Hinshaw’s Order 33-2020 which was intended to clarify questions around masking and social distancing in schools but muddied the waters even more.
On Sept 1, Jason Kenney gave a press conference that was intended (presumably) to assure parents they could safely send their children back to school in the middle of a pandemic.
His message, carefully crafted by his team of issues managers and PR professionals, was:
- infections (which result in illness and sometimes death) are “inevitable”
- such “inevitability” is no reason to close schools
- schools must assume “a certain risk” (which Kenney couldn’t or wouldn’t quantify)
- it’s “essential” schools open because experts say kids need to be in school
- his government has put in place certain “protocols” based on the advice of Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Hinshaw, and others, and school boards should consult with Dr Hinshaw who will respond on a case-by-case basis to outbreaks (she’ll be swamped, but who cares, it’s just a pandemic, right?).
Mr Kenney’s message of inevitability shows zero leadership or accountability. It is eerily reminiscent of Donald Trump’s response (“it is what it is”) to the Covid-19 death toll in the US. It speaks to resignation and defeat. It is not the legitimate foundation of a viable School Re-Entry Plan.
Mr Kenney’s press conference came on the heels of Dr Hinshaw’s Order 33-2020.
Prior to Dr Hinshaw’s Order, we’d understood that masking was required in schools for grades 4 and up where social distancing could not be maintained; however Order 33-2020 says (we think) that it’s okay for kids not to wear masks even if social distancing can’t be maintained as long as kids sit quietly at their desks and aren’t facing each other.
Shaun Fluker, a law prof at the University of Calgary, is not surprised by the criticism of the government and Dr Hinshaw’s rules on masking and social distancing. He says Order 33-2020 is poorly drafted, apparently inconsistent with the government’s earlier messaging on its Covid-19 website and Hinshaw’s own Order 26-2020, and the timing—it was dropped on the beleaguered public the Saturday before the start of classes—raises the suspicion that “the heavy hand of politics” was involved in its drafting.
Yep, you can say that again.
At the very least
These are confusing and unsettling times. Albertans have every right to expect clear, consistent, thoughtful leadership from their government and their medical experts.
Dr Hinshaw’s last minute about face on the masking/social distancing rule for school children, together with Mr Kenney’s insistence that infections are “inevitable” and his refusal to provide significant funding to allow schools to reduce class sizes (some of which are in the mid to high 30s) to combat Covid-19 in schools, has resulted in a lack of trust in both the Chief Medical Officer and the Kenney government, precisely at a time we need them the most.
School children, teachers, staff, their families, and all Albertans who will be impacted by the Kenney government’s ill-conceived, underfunded School Re-Entry Plan deserve better because contrary to popular opinion becoming ill and dying of Covid-19 is not inevitable.
Not by a long shot.