The Province is tightening the COVID-19 safety guidelines in K-12 schools in B.C., implementing new mandatory mask rules and strict measures regarding “high-intensity” activities.
“As the pandemic continues to evolve and as we learn more about its behaviour our school guidelines need to evolve as well,” said Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Education in a press conference on Thursday. “We are strengthening and update our K-12 health and safety measures.”
Middle and high school students in B.C. will now have to wear non-medical masks whenever inside the school, even in their learning groups. Masks will not have to be worn when sitting at your desk or workstation, when there is barrier in place, or when eating or drinking.
While a welcome step, the new mandate doesn’t go far enough for the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association.
“It creates this ‘wear a mask except for this time and this time and this time’ and I think that creates confusion. What I would like to hear is wear a mask at all times where it’s possible,” said Association President Winona Waldron.
For elementary school children, wearing a mask is still a personal choice.
Before this recent change, masks were required for middle and secondary students and all K-12 staff in high-traffic areas, like hallways and outside of classrooms or learning groups when they could not safely distance themselves from others.
The Ministry also announced changes in the COVID-19 safety guidelines for physical education and music classes.
High-intensity physical activities are to be held outside as much as possible, and shared equipment or items, such as weight machines, treadmills or musical instruments, can be used only if they are cleaned between use.
Students using equipment or playing instruments should be spaced at least two metres apart and masks are to be used when singing.
The Province also announced the second installment of its federal government funding.
The feds provided $242.4 million in one-time funding for the 2020 to 2021 school year, with the first half of the investment allocated in September.
The second installment, $121.2 million, arrived on Jan. 29, 2021 and B.C. is allocating $101.1 million to school districts and $7.5 million to independent schools.
School districts will be given an additional $3.5 million to manage COVID-19 exposures in schools. To support Indigenous learners, $8.2 million will go towards addressing learning loss and student health, technology for remote learning, education and mental health support, adapting classroom spaces and enhanced cleaning.
The money will be and has been used to hire additional staff and purchase masks, cleaning supplies, PPE, to support remote learning, and improve ventilation and air quality systems in schools.
Dr. Henry says schools remain a low-risk setting. And Waldron agrees.
“Any step forward is a positive and here in Victoria we’ve been incredibly lucky, we’ve only had three exposures, I do believe our schools are safe I just want to make sure we reach the end of this keeping our students and staff as safe as possible,” she said.
For more information about B.C.’s COVID-19 safety guidelines in K-12 schools, click here.