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Parents nearly empty small B.C. school of kids over teacher’s mask exemption

Majority of students are not attending class in Sointula, off northern Vancouver Island
A.J. Elliott Elementary School in Sointula. ( photo)

An elementary public school off northern Vancouver Island is almost empty after upset parents pulled their children from attending.

Parents at A.J. Elliott Elementary School in Sointula on Malcolm Island are talking to School District 85 (SD85) over issues with a teacher they were told won’t be wearing a mask this school season. Parents say the principal told several parents the teacher had a medical exemption and wouldn’t be wearing a mask, which was then confirmed at a meeting Friday while discussing COVID safety concerns.

Brittany Swanson, a mother of three children who attend the school, spoke to Black Press Media on behalf of the group of parents. She said that about 28 students out of a possible 33 are not attending class as a result.

“We, the parents of children at A.J. Elliott Elementary, want to send our kids to school but having a teacher who cannot wear a mask and whose vaccine status is unknown does not provide the safe learning environment that we need,” she said in a statement.

“This directly pertains to our children who are almost all under the age of 12 and cannot be vaccinated. We do not accept the premise that the school board can put the medical needs of one staff member above the health and safety of the entire school. It is unfair for the school district to force parents to make the decision between sending their children into an environment for which they feel is unsafe and their access to an education.”

SD85’s superintendent of schools Christina MacDonald provided a statement on behalf of the school district.

“The school district has a communicable disease plan based on provincial guidelines that requires all staff and students in grades 4 to 12 to wear a mask when indoors,” she said.

“However, there are exceptions to the indoor mask requirement in certain situations. School boards in British Columbia take direction from the ministry of education and public health and are expected to follow the provincial K-12 guidelines…”

The parents are asking for any teachers and staff who cannot wear masks to be relocated to where they can work in isolation from the rest of the school community, and are calling for emergency funds to be provided by the ministry to the school board for a secure in-school alternative for students while this gets sorted.

The Ministry of Education told the Gazette that a Vancouver Island Rapid Response Team has reached out to the school district and is reviewing local safety plans to ensure safeguards are in place to support a healthy learning environment at the school, as well as to help communicate with the parents.


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Tyson Whitney

About the Author: Tyson Whitney

I have been working in the community newspaper business for nearly a decade, all of those years with Black Press Media.
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