An anti-mask COVID-19 protest held outside the Central Okanagan school district office in Kelowna, B.C., drew a small crowd on Wednesday.
Protesters held signs that read “unmask our children,” “mandatory masks have no place in schools,” “children not politics” and “I can’t breathe.”
Parent Zoe Blarowski said her son is in kindergarten and claims B.C.’s expanded mask mandate in the K-12 school system is unnecessary.
“I don’t support the new mask mandate for young children, because, from the research I’ve seen, there is no asymptomatic spread of COVID, so there is no need for the masking, it doesn’t make sense,” she said.
“They can’t see each other; they can’t communicate and learn empathy.”
Montanna Batting is a mother of four with one child in the public school system.
“Six hours a day for a child is way too long for them to be masked so I just don’t agree with it,” she said.
“The length of wearing it is ridiculous. She can’t breathe in her mask at school for six hours a day, it is too much.”
When asked why the protesters were targeting a school board office that doesn’t make the rules, Blarowski said school administration should advocate against the provincially-imposed policy.
“They can still speak out about it. They can speak to the government and question why. We aren’t being given clear reasons,” Plarowski said.
Kevin Kaardal, superintendent of the Central Okanagan school district, said it’s the board of education’s responsibility to implement public health orders.
“We do live in a democracy and I suppose people can have their voice, although I can’t condone the message when it is targeting the safety of our students and staff,” Kaardal said.
He added that 97 per cent of students are complying with the new K-3 mask mandate, while 99 per cent of students in grades 4 to 12 are abiding, according to surveys of teaching staff.
The roughly three per cent of students in non-compliance have received — or are in the process of receiving — an exemption from the school, Kaardal said.
No medical note is required, but a concerned family can request an exemption from the school principal due to anxiety or trauma caused by mask-wearing, he said.
In announcing the across-the-board mask mandate on Oct.1, Henry said she has heard the concerns of parents and teachers as cases have risen rapidly over the last couple of weeks among kids, especially those between the ages of five and 11, and in communities with lower vaccination rates.
Henry said the extended school mask mandate will be in place until at least January, when it will be assessed based on whether vaccines would be available for children under 12.
A rising number of infections among children has led to more exposure to the virus “and several school outbreaks have also been detected and reported,” she said.
Henry said most of the COVID-19 transmission continues to occur in homes and through social networks as a significant number of kids are being tested for the illness.
The provincial health officer said a return to learning cohorts has not been considered because that approach caused significant challenges in the operation of schools when other strategies like reducing group gatherings and assemblies have been more effective in lowering transmission of COVID-19.
All of the coronavirus exposures occurred in late September when a staff member or student attended school while infectious.
— with files from the Canadian Press