Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has already announced the mask mandate will be lifted when kids return following March break.
In an open letter to all education stakeholders and leaders, the advocacy group comprised of teachers and parents is pushing for the mandate “so that all children can be safer from the BA.2 variant as well as future variants.”
“Failing to do so in a public school situation is discriminatory and could be a human rights violation. … Nova Scotia has now extended their school mask mandate; BC can too,” the letter reads.
“Failure to do so will be putting children and families at risk and is breaking a basic tenet of public schools – that ALL children have the right to access an education.”
After sustained pressure from teachers and parents, the province brought in a mask mandate for all kids from kindergarten to Grade 12 back on Oct. 1. Previously, masks were only required in the classroom for kids Grade 4 to Grade 12.
Due to a significant drop-off in COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases, health officials dropped the mandate for public indoor spaces on March 11.
The Safe School Coalition BC said vaccination rates in five- to 11-year-olds are stalled around 56 per cent with one or two doses, including only 30 per cent having two doses by March 11.
The letter also notes the Omicron variant sent more children to hospital in two months than the entire previous 20 months of the pandemic.
“The Omicron BA.2 variant is causing cases and hospitalizations to rise in Europe, Hong Kong, South Korea, and China, with some experts warning it is close to measles in transmissibility and continuing to warn about serious effects, even in young, healthy people,” the letter reads.
“Education leaders must recognize that public schools are unique in this pandemic. Public schools are NOT a place where families and children can manage their own risk.”
Last week in an interview with Global News, Premier John Horgan acknowledged the unique challenges teachers and parents have faced during the pandemic, as his government begins negotiations for a new contract with the BC Teachers’ Federation.
“Teachers have been right in the centre of it because, when you put a whole bunch of people in one room for a whole day — when you are talking about an airborne disease — that is a challenge,” Horgan said.
“Is there a need to compensate that? Or is there a need to better understand where we can make investments (for example) in HVAC systems within our old and our new schools?”
The coalition’s letter also states that attending school is not the same as choosing to dine indoors at a restaurant or go to a movie theatre with unmasked people.
“Public schools are supposed to be equitable and safe for all. If rules can be set for peanut-free schools, so that those with severe peanut allergies can avoid exposure, then the same needs to be done for students who themselves or whose families face higher risk from catching this virus.”