New measures aimed at improving COVID-19 safety plans in B.C. schools have received a failing grade from the Nanaimo District Teachers Association. The new rules mean students in middle schools and high schools will now have to wear masks in all indoor areas, including classrooms, except when they are seated or standing at their desks. Previously, the students were required to wear masks in hallways and common areas only. No data was released to support the changes, which teachers are calling "woefully inadequate."
BC's Minister of Education, Jennifer Whiteside, acknowledges concerns over health risks expressed by teachers, students and their families were a major reason for the enhanced rules.
The Nanaimo District Teachers Association says the new measures do little to quell concerns. Students in elementary schools will not be required to wear masks and students in grades seven and eight who attend elementary schools will also not have to wear masks. Association spokesperson Jeremy Inscho points out there are no middle schools in the district, which is one reason he says the Ministry of Education's new rules deserve a failing grade.
Inscho is disappointed the new regulations do not include measures to create more space for physical distancing or more barriers. He says BC's provincial health officer is unwilling to meet the same standards for school safety as other provinces like Ontario, where masks are also mandatory for elementary school students. Indeed, while announcing the new safety measures, Dr. Bonnie Henry continued to insist the old ones were working just fine.
However, there are currently three elementary schools in Nanaimo where the virus has been transmitted in the school setting. Ischo says the teachers' association welcomes the creation of COVID-19 response teams for schools to better manage these clusters, but it is calling for more rapid testing when school exposures break out, along with improved communication with teachers, students and their families when that happens.