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B.C. schools won't be stopped from expanding mask policies

Last Updated Mar 16, 2021 at 1:10 pm PDT

(CITYNEWS/Tony Fera)

While mask debate at B.C. schools continues, provincial health officer insists rules are not solely up to her

Dr. Bonnie Henry suggests masking protocols may differ based on where you live

Schools making masks mandatory above and beyond current directives from B.C. PHO not being ordered to stop

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include exceptions to the mask-wearing rules for students in middle and secondary schools.

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – B.C. school principals choosing to make masks mandatory above and beyond what’s recommended by the provincial health officer are not being ordered to stop.

Dr. Bonnie Henry suggests protocols may differ based on where you live.

“We have public health guidance, and then there’s Ministry of Education directives that are based on the public health guidance and those are enforced in the schools with the partnership between the school district, the school principal, and the school health officer in that area,” she said Monday.

“We have a policy — a public health guidance — for all schools, and the public health guidance is based on what we know, the measures that we need to have in place to help protect all people in the school community and that includes a provision for mask wearing,” Henry said.

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Currently, middle and secondary students, as well as all staff and teachers from K-12 are required to wear masks while in all indoor spaces at schools, including within learning groups. Exceptions include when they are sitting in or standing at their seat or desk, if there is a barrier in place, and while they are eating or drinking.

The mask mandate does not apply to elementary students, for whom mask wearing remains a personal choice.

On March 2, the head of the Federation of Independent School Associations in British Columbia — which represents more than 300 private schools — sent out what he calls a courtesy letter to make sure provincial guidelines are followed.

“The revised guidelines of February 4th brought the majority of independent schools into alignment, but our recent survey indicates that some independent schools continue to deviate from the guidelines in areas such as mandatory mask usage for elementary aged students, required temperature checks, and written confirmation of student daily health checks,” the letter reads, in part.

“In the coming weeks such schools can expect potential media attention along with contact from the MoE requesting rationale for school-based decisions which are not in alignment with the health and safety guidelines.”

That prompted speculation on social media about possible interference from the Ministry of Education.

Ministry of Education staff have confirmed a rapid response team is dedicated to making sure safety orders are followed, but there’s no evidence of any crackdown on schools implementing stronger mask policies.

“So there is mask mandates in the public health guidance and then each school district, each school, puts the operational pieces in place using those guidelines,” Henry said.