Starting Wednesday, all K-12 school staff and all students in Grades 4 to 12 in B.C. will be required to wear non-medical masks in all indoor areas, including when they are at their work stations.
The change was officially announced on Monday by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry in the face of rising COVID-19 cases.
“We are focused on the safety of students and education workers and we will continue to follow public health advice to keep schools safe and open,” Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said.
“Schools reflect what’s happening in local communities and we support public health’s decision to introduce additional mask measures to our K-12 guidelines across the province.”
Students in kindergarten to Grade 3 are strongly encouraged to wear a mask indoors in schools and on school buses. But mask-wearing ultimately remains a personal or family/caregiver choice for those students.
For students in Grades 4 to 12, masks will be required on school buses as well. The new guidelines reflect the rules put in place starting on Monday at schools in the Surrey School District.
The guidance says no student should be prevented from attending or fully participating in school if they are not wearing a mask.
Schools continue to be encouraged to support student mask use through positive approaches, and not through punishment or enforcement.
“We know parents and families are worried. It’s important to remember, despite the number of exposures in the community, most COVID cases involving staff or students have not resulted in further transmission within schools which tells us that the COVID-19 safety protocols are working,” Whiteside said.
Exceptions to the guidelines for Grades 4 to 12 include:
- a person who is unable to wear a mask because they do not tolerate it (for health or behavioural reasons);
- a person unable to put on or remove a mask without the assistance of another person;
- if the mask is removed temporarily for the purposes of identifying the person wearing it;
- if the mask is removed temporarily to engage in an educational activity that cannot be performed while wearing a mask (e.g. actively playing a wind instrument, high-intensity physical activity, etc.);
- if a person is eating or drinking;
- if a person is behind a barrier; and
- while providing a service to a person with a disability or diverse ability (including but not limited to a hearing impairment), where visual cues, facial expressions and/or lip reading/movements are important.