A kid in elementary school wearing a face mask amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Metro Creative)

A kid in elementary school wearing a face mask amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Metro Creative)

Union asks why an elementary school mask rule wouldn’t work in B.C. if it does elsewhere

B.C. education minister announced expansion of mask-wearing rules in middle, high school but not elementary students

As British Columbia teachers argue for broader mask requirements in elementary schools, some families and educators say it’s been easy for kids to adapt to the rules in other provinces.

Heather Thompson, a special-education teacher at Whitehorn Public School in Mississauga, Ont., said masks were introduced to students from grades 1 through 12 in September in Peel’s school district.

“Kids are easier than adults, frankly,” said Thompson, who works with Grade 4 and 5 students.

“I find once they’re told a rule, they’re pretty compliant. We don’t often give kids credit where credit is due.”

B.C. Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside announced an expansion of indoor mask-wearing rules for middle and high schools on Feb. 4, but elementary students were excluded.

While elementary teachers are required to wear masks in common indoor areas, it remains a personal choice for elementary students and their families.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said young children don’t get as sick with COVID-19 and don’t pass it on as well as others. Data from around the world support the importance of other safety measures, but masks are more complicated for kids, she said.

“Masks can be counterproductive, particularly for young people who have challenges with keeping it on all the time or not fiddling with it and it can cause more challenges in a class setting,” Henry said.

Demands from teachers for increased safety measures like stronger mask rules have grown louder since variants of the COVID-19 virus were identified at several schools on the Lower Mainland.

RELATED: Stress leave, tears and insomnia: Island teachers feel the strain of COVID-19

On Tuesday, teachers marched outside an elementary school in Surrey, B.C., where a confirmed case of a COVID-19 variant had been reported.

Matt Westphal, the president of the Surrey Teachers Association, said teachers are concerned that there is just a single set of health and safety rules for every school in the province, regardless of how severe the pandemic is in each community.

“We think that school districts should be permitted to establish more strict rules, if they think they need to,” Westphal said, adding Surrey has far more cases than some other jurisdictions.

In Ontario, teachers and students in grades 1 to 12 are required to wear non-medical face masks inside and when physical distancing isn’t possible outdoors.

In Quebec, mask rules depend on whether a school is located in high-risk areas. In “red zones” like Montreal, all students must wear masks in common areas, while those in Grade 5 and up must also wear them in classrooms.

The in-class rule will be expanded to all elementary students in red zones March 8.

Felix Joubarne, 9, said he understands why he has to wear a mask on the bus and in corridors. He goes to Ecole du Grand-Boise in Chelsea, Que., which was in a “red zone” for several months before recently transitioning to an “orange zone” with fewer restrictions.

“When they first started, it was kind of hard and you always forgot your mask, but you get used to it,” he said.

He doesn’t believe it’s changed the way he interacts with his friends.

His father, Simon Joubarne, said he supports mask policy in schools if it reduces the risk of transmission.

Jenny Gignoux has two children at the same school who are 11 and eight.

“At the beginning, I would say I was a bit worried when they told us that my daughter had to wear a mask,” she said.

Masks are uncomfortable, she thought, and she wondered if it would be difficult to communicate or for her daughter, Lyra, to understand her teacher.

But Lyra never mentioned masks after the policy kicked in, only saying that she got used to it after Gignoux asked her.

“I think they are more adaptable than we are, they got used to it very quickly and that’s it,” she said.

Gignoux thought it might be more difficult for her son Soren, who is eight, but he has generally adapted to wearing masks in public places like stores or on ski hills with a few reminders, she said.

BC Teachers’ Federation president Teri Mooring said teachers are frustrated that they haven’t received a straight answer on the rationale behind why masks aren’t required for elementary students.

If kids fiddle too much, she questioned how young children in other jurisdictions seem to have successfully learned to wear masks.

“This reason is dismissive and unsatisfactory.”

Mooring said she has heard no evidence that wearing masks would harm children. But a recent survey showed teachers are experiencing high levels of stress due to a lack of confidence in the health and safety measures, Mooring said.

“Their stress levels are directly connected to the health and safety measures,” she said.

Communication about exactly what’s allowed and who has the power to enforce rules has been another “huge issue,” Mooring said.

Three principals who recently tried to impose stricter mask rules independently were thwarted by their school districts, she said.

The Education Ministry said in a statement that neither schools, school boards nor the ministry itself has the authority to set public health policy in a pandemic.

“Only the provincial health officer and medical health officers have the authority to do that,” it said.

The ministry sets guidelines based on those experts’ guidance, it said.

However, on Tuesday, Henry said there is “absolute flexibility” in adapting and adjusting safety plans for schools depending on their local situation. Schools work with their local health officers to address challenges unique to them, she said.

“It is important for teachers to encourage mask use where it is appropriate in classrooms.”

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

FILE – Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have agreed to sign a memorandum on rights and title with B.C. and Ottawa, but elected chiefs are demanding it be called off over lack of consultation. (Thom Barker photo)
Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, Lake Babine Nation get provincial funding for land, title rights

Government says it’s a new, flexible model for future agreements between Canada, B.C. and First Nations.

The property on which a residential school (pictured) that was torn down years ago in Lower Post is to be the location of a cultural centre. (Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre photo)
Lower Post residential school building to be demolished, replaced with cultural centre

Project to be funded by federal and provincial governments, Daylu Dena Council

Photo collage of loved ones lost to substance use and overdose. (Photo courtesy Moms Stop The Harm)
B.C. overdose deaths still rising 5 years after public health emergency declared

Moms Stop the Harm calls on B.C. to provide safe supply in response to deadly illicit drug use

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has suspended indoor dining at restaurants and pubs until at least April 19 in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. sets new COVID-19 daily record with 1,293 cases Thursday

New order allows workplace closures when infections found

The new 3,500 hectare conservancy in Tahltan territory is located next to Mount Edziza Provincial Park. (BC Parks Photo)
New conservancy protects sacred Tahltan land near Mount Edziza Provincial Park

Project is a collaboration between Skeena Resources, conservation groups and the TCG

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

(Black Press file photo).
Multiple stabbings at Vancouver Island bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault in Comox

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. finance minister to table historic pandemic-challenged deficit budget

Budget aims to take care of people during pandemic while preparing for post-COVID-19 recovery, Robinson said

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

B.C. homeowners are being urged to take steps to prepare for the possibility of a flood by moving equipment and other assets to higher ground. (J.R. Rardon)
‘Entire province faces risk’: B.C. citizens urged to prepare for above-average spring flooding

Larger-than-normal melting snowpack poses a threat to the province as warmer weather touches down

Most Read