B.C.’s Ministry of Education has expanded mask rules for students, but a Vancouver Island teachers’ union rep is hoping for even stricter regulations.
Jennifer Whiteside, B.C. education minister, announced Feb. 4 that masks are now mandatory in indoor areas for middle school and secondary students, however, affected students will be exempt when they are at their seat, if a barrier is in place and while drinking or eating. Previously it was only mandatory in high-traffic areas in schools.
Elementary school students, as was the case previously, are still not required to wear masks.
Jeremy Inscho, Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association spokesperson, told the News Bulletin he is pleased B.C. education sector standards are becoming “incrementally” more in line with others, but it falls short of other provinces.
“Ontario has a mask mandate for Grade 1-12, and at all times,” said Inscho. “Alberta is 4-12. Why are we doing 8-12 and sometimes 6-7. That’s just not clear. There’s a risk. There’s a concern and our province isn’t protecting students and staff to the level that others are.”
The district has reported multiple COVID-19 exposures at schools in the last week, and Inscho said union members are worried as they are under “deep pressure to maintain a healthy, safe environment to the best of their ability to perform their jobs.”
“When we’re looking at clusters, when we know it’s more than just an isolated case, we need to jump on this,” said Inscho. “We have these more transmissible variants going around right now and we need to do more than the minimum. If we jump in now to increase our prevention, we can get ahead of the curve, rather than reacting. The [announcement] today was based on looking at what has worked so far and obviously it hasn’t worked because we’re [expanding] it, but why not take a bigger step?
“Why not do more when we’re expecting the risks to be greater with more transmissible variants?”
Inscho said the union is satisfied with cleaning protocols put in place due to the pandemic, but they should be the norm. He said previous governments underfunded education, often at the expense of education support workers, such as cleaning staff.
“Until this year, we haven’t had day-time janitors, custodians, in elementary schools for years,” said Inscho. “Now we do and schools are clean and it’s noticeable. The custodians are able to do more than just sweep the floors and empty the garbage. There’s actually some sanitation happening here and cleaning surfaces and that’s at a standard that needs to stay. That’s not a COVID thing, that should be an all-time thing in prevention of future outbreaks of even the annual cold and flu.”
Ally Segreto, a Ladysmith Secondary School Grade 12 student and student council vice-president, said there has been buy-in and she doesn’t see student habits changing.
“It’s pretty much the same thing that myself, and a lot of other of my classmates have been doing already … it’s not really that different,” said Segreto. “I think, from what I’ve seen, it’s more just, if you’re sitting you’re allowed to keep [your mask] off, but if you’re standing and walking around or doing group work you have to put it back on.”