Henry says schools are not ‘public places’ as BCTF urges students to wear masks in classrooms

Henry says schools are not 'public places' as BCTF urges students to wear masks in classrooms

The union representing teachers across British Columbia is taking COVID-19 safety into their own hands.

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation announced this weekend that they are urging both parents and teachers to “create a culture of mask-wearing” by explaining to students the importance of wearing a mask while in the classroom.

“One of those prime things to do that we should all be doing is wearing masks,” said Teri Mooring, the president of BCTF. “That and physical distancing are the two key preventative measures that we know we need to engage in everywhere in our lives right now, except classrooms.”

Teachers are being asked to print out a poster that encourages students to wear a mask while in the classroom.

“The poster is a simple request, not a mandate, not a requirement,” said Mooring. “And we all understand that. So teachers are putting them in their classrooms.”

BCTF says it realizes there are situations where wearing a mask isn’t ideal for students, but is encouraging students and teachers to wear them in class as much as possible.

“We know there are people who for various reasons can’t wear masks. And, there are some learning situations where masks aren’t appropriate. That’s ok. We have a lot of experience making sure people are included and treated with respect. But, let’s #maskup as much as we can,” the union said on Twitter Friday.

The union’s announcement comes days after Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer, announced a series of new province-wide measures that include mandatory masks in indoor public spaces, but not in schools.

Henry said the measures in place are enough and transmission in schools are low, despite a number of COVID-19 exposure events at various schools throughout the province.

“Schools are not public spaces where we’re with a variety of different people that we don’t know on a repeated basis,” she said on Monday. “What schools have are individual COVID safety plans that meet certain criteria.”

Masks are mandatory in high-traffic common areas in middle and secondary schools like hallways.

But that alone isn’t enough, said Brittany Robbins, who has two children in elementary school.

“It’s next to impossible for these teachers to have these kids socially distance to where the provincial health officer would like, so I think having masks would then protect them as well as the teachers,” she explained.

Her five-year-old son, Kyden, has asthma and has been hospitalized before as a result of respiratory illnesses. With COVID-19, Robbins doesn’t want to take any chances.

“I feel like masks should be mandatory in classrooms if we’re making them mandatory in all other public places — grocery stores, shopping malls, things like that where families and people gather,” Robbins said.

The union, meanwhile, has been against Henry’s decision not to mandate masks in school for months, suggesting she isn’t doing enough to protect teachers, staff and students.

“B.C. teachers shouldn’t have less protection than other workers. The government and [Dr. Bonnie Henry] should be doing more,” the union said in a statement on Facebook on Sunday.

Jasmine BalaJasmine Bala

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