The BC Teachers’ Federation is asking provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to change her position on mask wearing within school cohorts.
Currently students are required to wear masks in high-traffic areas where cohorts mingle.
Union president Teri Mooring says concerns about the new COVID-19 variants make it crucial the mask rules get extended to the classroom.
“From what we have all learned from the variant is it is more contagious and this really indicates the need for mask wearing inside cohorts,” Mooring said.
Henry and Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside are scheduled to announce an update on enhanced health and safety guidelines for K-12 students and staff on Thursday.
The announcement is expected to include how the province will be spending federal money earmarked to improve safe operations of B.C. schools.
Earlier this week the federal government announced a second instalment of up to $1 billion for provinces and territories in the Safe Return to Classroom Fund.
The money will be distributed to the schools districts and can be spent on additional staff, additional cleaning products or additional barriers.
“We would like to see the federal money being spent on more barriers being set up when requested by teachers,” Mooring said.
Ventilation systems can also be purchased with the money. There are many schools in the province with older ventilation systems where filters cannot be replaced and there are classrooms where windows cannot be opened.
“We think portable ventilation systems should be put into classrooms. We know that families and teachers are buying them themselves and this should not happen. School districts are responsible for safety in the schools and it sets up an inequity,” Mooring said.
“This is not the way it should be in a public school system in a province like B.C.”
The provincial government has been tracking COVID-19 cases linked to schools. Henry has produced data showing schools continue to see lower rates of transmission than other parts of the province including other workplaces and social gatherings.
In terms of the mask policy, the province says masks are one part of the plan and there are many different parts that reduce the risk of transmission and reduce the risk of widespread transmission in schools.
“(Deputy provincial health officer) Dr. Reka Gustafson has been working with the school team to look at where things are working and where things aren’t working and there will be more information about that later this week,” Henry said on Monday.
“But masks have always been one of but not the only safety factor in schools.”