Students and staff will be required to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 when school starts up again in September, the B.C. education ministry said Monday (Aug. 17).
The rules will apply to middle schools and high schools, where students and staff will have to wear them in “high traffic areas.” In a later statement, the education ministry confirmed that Grade 6 and 7 students, who can attend either elementary or middle schools, will only have to wear masks if they are enrolled in the latter.
“Elementary school students tend to stay with the same classmates and teacher in the same classroom throughout the day, compared to middle and secondary students who tend to have multiple teachers, in a variety of classrooms and with different classmates for different subjects,” the ministry said.
Masks remain option for elementary school students, but the ministry said “non-medical masks are not recommended… due to the increased likelihood they will touch their face and eyes, as well as the required assistance to properly put on and take off their mask.”
The education ministry said “exceptions will be made” for students who cannot wear masks for medical reasons. The “high traffic areas” include buses and in common areas such as hallways, as well as anytime students are outside their learning group and cannot maintain physical distancing.
The ministry said that even when staff and students are wearing a mask, they will still need to maintain physical distance from those outside their learning groups. The groups range from 60 kids for younger grades and 120 in high school.
“Efforts will be put in place to ensure there is not crowding, gathering or congregating of people from different learning groups in a school setting, even if non-medical masks are being worn,” the ministry said.
The province said it will provide funding to buy 1.5 million masks, enough for all students and staff to get two non-medical masks. Manufacturer Canadian Shield has said it will donate 54,500 face shields.
The move comes after weeks of pressure on the provincial government to mandate masks or give parents a better sense of what measures are being taken to keep students safe, especially as B.C.’s COVID-19 cases have begun to spike in recent days. Several provinces, including Ontario and Alberta have mandated masks for students in Grade 4 and up.
One B.C. teenager’s mask mandate petition has gathered more than 5,400 signatures, while a petition against requiring in-person instruction has been signed by more than 34,000 people. Teachers are currently expected to return to school on Sept. 8, while students will come back two days later. Although the government outlined broad guidelines for learning groups, sanitizing, and now masks, individual school districts must release their own plans by Aug. 26.
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