Teachers' union says "more can be done" after BC unveils updated mask guidelines

Feb 4 2021, 7:29 pm

The BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) has addressed the provincial government’s updated mandatory mask policy, saying that while there are some feelings of relief, “more can be done.”

On Thursday morning, BC announced that all middle and secondary students, and K-12 staff, are now required to wear non-medical masks in all indoor areas, including when they are with their learning groups.

The only exceptions are when students are sitting or standing at their seat or workstation, when there’s a barrier in place, or when they’re eating or drinking. Elementary school students will still have the choice of whether or not to use face masks.

BCTF President Teri Mooring says that while the update to mandatory masks is “welcome news,” the changes are “long overdue.” She also adds that there are many safety improvements that can still be done.

“Today’s changes will make schools safer, and that is welcome news,” Mooring says in a statement. “However, the changes do not include improvements to school density, ventilation, or the ongoing inadequacy of contact tracing.”

One of the changes the BCTF wants is added clarity and the support of mask-wearing for students in elementary school.

“The stronger mask mandate does not apply to elementary students,” Mooring explains. “However, the removal of the term ‘not recommended’ will make it easier for teachers and school staff to encourage more mask-wearing.”

The union also argues that physical distancing rules “still don’t apply in classrooms” and that the learning group cohort model is a “weak safety measure.”

Mooring notes that some of these changes can be implemented within a short time period as well.

“Teachers, support staff, students, and parents have waited a long time for safety improvements,” she says. “We can’t afford any more delays.”

Thursday’s announcement from the provincial government also included strengthened guidelines for physical education and music classes: High-intensity physical activities are to be held outside as much as possible. Shared equipment or items, such as weight machines, treadmills or musical instruments, can be used only if they are cleaned between use, according to strict school sanitization guidelines.

Students using equipment or playing instruments should also be spaced at least two metres apart, and masks are to be used when singing.

With files from Eric Zimmer

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