A crossing guard stops traffic as students wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 arrive at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. A number of schools in the Fraser Health region, including Woodward Hill, have reported cases of the B.1.7.7 COVID-19 variant first detected in the U.K. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

A crossing guard stops traffic as students wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 arrive at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. A number of schools in the Fraser Health region, including Woodward Hill, have reported cases of the B.1.7.7 COVID-19 variant first detected in the U.K. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Masks required for Grade 4 and older in B.C. as part of return-to-school plan

Students will be in class full time this fall

Students, teachers and staff will be returning to full-time classes this fall, Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said.

The announcement was made during a press conference on Tuesday (Aug. 24), along with a requirement for masking in all indoor spaces for Grades 4 and up. Teachers, other school staff and visitors will also be required to mask up.

Masks will be required for older students and all adults in classrooms and on school buses, along with all other indoor spaces in schools. Children in kindergarten to Grade 3 will be encouraged to wear a mask, Whiteside added.

But masks will not be the only measures.

“What we announced in June was that we would continue the school year with the foundations of our health and safety guidelines; the daily health check, attendance management, ensuring that students and staff do not come to school while they’re sick, ongoing hand hygiene, ensuring enhanced cleaning, having in place health and safety checklists for school administrators,” she said.

“Between last school year and this upcoming school year, $87.5 million in provincial and federal funding has been invested specifically for air quality improvements in schools.”

Whiteside said that 44 school districts have upgraded their HVAC systems and that “100 per cent” of schools are working on ventilation.

The rapid response teams introduced last year will continue to work with school districts and further regional and local measures can be implemented if needed.

While the mask requirement will be the same this fall as the last school year, some things will be different. Whiteside said there will not be learning groups or cohorts because the province is in a different situation than last year with vaccines available for all ages 12 and older. Extracurricular, food programs and water fountains will all be back for this school year.

Children ages 12 and older have been able to receive the Pfizer vaccine since May and Whiteside said that 72 per cent of those ages 12 to 17 have received their first dose of a COVID vaccine, while 57 per cent have received both shots.

However, COVID vaccines will not be mandated for teachers, staff or students.

The education minister said that she could not say what percentage of school staff were vaccinated, noting that the province does not track immunization rates by occupation. Teachers were one of the first groups after health care workers to be offered vaccinations this spring.

Henry said that vaccinations among school staff reflect those of the communities they are in and that immunization requirements linked to the recently announced vaccine card will affect teachers as well as the overall public.

She said that while vaccines will be mandatory for long-term health-care staff because of the risk to vulnerable residents, the risk posed by unvaccinated teachers to children is lower.

While notices about COVID exposures in school became a regular part of life for many parents last school year, Whiteside said that the province is still figuring out when and how those notifications will be used this fall.

“It’s really a decision that comes from public health about how to notify individuals who may be affected by a by a communicable disease, and so that we will certainly have confirmation of what people can expect in that regard in advance of the start of school on Sept. 7.”

READ MORE: B.C. brings back mask mandate for all indoor public spaces

READ MORE: Proof of vaccination to be required for B.C. sports, movies, restaurants

READ MORE: Masks, vaccination proof needed for B.C. post-secondary gatherings


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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