Changes are coming to the way COVID-19 is managed in K-12 schools. Once students return from Spring Break, masks will no longer be required and other ‘revisions’ will be implemented in a public health order that has yet to be released.
B.C. Teachers Federation President Teri Mooring said she was pleased that the government gave schools some lead time to implement rule changes, however, she said it will be a challenge to remind students to wear their masks in school when they don’t have to wear them anywhere else.
“We’re concerned that it’s going to cause confusion in the school system. We were recommending that both mask mandates get lifted at the same time so there wasn’t confusion and that it happens after Spring Break. It was disappointing to learn there was going to be this discrepancy.”
For many students, Spring Break starts on March 14. But some schools will remain in session through next week and Mooring is concerned teachers will have to continually remind students to wear their masks.
Another issue facing schools is the low vaccination rates among five to 11-year-olds — particularly in Northern Health and Interior Health.
“We have been calling on the government and the public health office to embark on an education campaign that’s directed at families to talk about the importance of children being vaccinated,” Mooring said. “That’s causing concern about the removal of mask mandates in conjunction with these low vaccination rates.”
One of the best layers of protection for schools in the absence of masks is ensuring good ventilation in indoor spaces. Mooring said the province has been investing in ventilation improvements and has freed up funds for some schools to implement “stop-gap” measures. She noted that half of B.C.’s school districts don’t meet the minimum standards for ventilation.
“There needs to be some long-range planning there. It was disappointing in the provincial budget not to see money for school ventilation systems because we think that families and people who work in schools ought to expect that the air is safe and ventilation systems meet minimum requirements, but that isn’t the case.”
In the past, the BCTF has called for free N95 or equivalent masks for any staff who want them. No move has been made to provide them.
Staff in the education sector have the second-highest amount of WorkSafeBC COVID-19 claims by industry, with 1,431 claims made since the pandemic began. Only the health-care and social services industry is higher with 5,299 claims.