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B.C. mandates masks for middle, secondary students, all staff

Last Updated Feb 4, 2021 at 5:38 pm PST

Summary

B.C. middle, secondary students will be required to wear masks in all indoor school settings, even in learning groups

As part of new rules, all K-12 staff will need to wear masks indoors at schools

Province says mask wearing remains a choice for elementary students

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) – Middle and secondary students, as well as all staff and teachers from K-12, will be required to wear masks while in all indoor spaces at schools, including within learning groups.

The new mask requirement, which is part of changes announced on Thursday, does not apply to elementary students, for whom mask wearing will remain a personal choice

As part of the new requirement, masks can only be taken off when students and staff are sitting or standing at their seat or workstation in a classroom, if there is a barrier, or when they are eating or drinking.

“It is critical to remember that masks do not prevent the spread of COVID-19 on their own. We still very much need the other layers of protection. We need to ensure students and staff continue to follow safety guidelines including, very importantly, not coming to school sick, even with mild symptoms,” said Minister of Education Jennifer Whiteside.

Mask mandates have been a major ask from the BC Teachers’ Federation, as well as many parents. Educators and their union have repeatedly expressed concerns with the way COVID-19 has been handled in schools so far. That’s also the indication from two surveys done by the BC Teachers’ Federation, recently, in which a mask order was identified as the largest demand.

In addition to the new mask mandate, provincial guidelines have also been updated for physical education and music lessons. Going forward, high-intensity physical activities are to be held outside “as much as possible,” the province says. Any shared equipment can only be used if they are cleaned in between uses.

Students should also be at least two metres apart while using equipment or playing instruments. Masks must be worn while singing.

“To make sure schools continue to be as safe as possible for students and staff as the pandemic evolves, we have worked with provincial health and our partners on a continuous review of the guidelines, adapting and responding when needed,” said Whiteside. “We want students, their families, and staff to feel confident with the safety measures in place – that’s why we making these updates.”

Meanwhile, the province says the second installment in funding for enhanced safety protocols at schools — which is $121.2 million — can be spent at the discretion of districts across B.C. The BCTF was looking to the ministry to give direction on that.

“School districts and independent schools have used this funding to hire more staff when needed, to purchase masks and cleaning supplies and other personal protective equipment, to support remote learning, to improve ventilation and air quality systems,” explained Whiteside.

Both Whiteside and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry stress masks are not the sole solution to the pandemic, noting they work in concert with other safety measures, like distance.

“They won’t, by themselves, stop the spread of COVID. But combined with our other layers, it can make a difference,” Henry said, adding this mask mandate is a similar approach to requirements in offices and restaurants.

“We have seen exposures in our schools and we have reported on those exposures, but we need to remember that these are reflections of what’s happening in our communities,” Henry says, reiterating there’s been very little spread of COVID-19 in schools, “particularly within the classrooms.”

More to come