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Masks in class—for Grade 4 and up

By Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Published 10:54 PDT, Fri September 3, 2021

B.C.’s back-to-school plan includes mandatory masks in all indoor spaces—but only for kids in Grade 4 and up.

Kindergarten to Grade 3 students will be encouraged to wear masks, but they will not be mandatory, according to the plan laid out last week by Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside.

Richmond Teachers’ Association president Liz Baverstock said the mask guidelines don't make sense.

“I think that they should be required for K-12, given that the K-4 population that hasn’t been vaccinated is the one where it is simply recommended and not required,” she said.

She expects families, parents and communities to help encourage younger students, and is pleased to see the continuation of daily health checks. It will also be important that people continue to stay home when sick, she said.

“Any time someone has a sickness, we’re going to think it’s COVID—so that’s going to be the part that’s a stress and strain on everyone,” said Baverstock.

But high vaccination numbers, including among teachers, make this back-to-school season different from last year’s. Baverstock said she’d like to see more vaccine clinics at school sites to help make them more accessible to families.

“I think the vaccination requirements for non-essential services will help, as a community at large, to convince some of the people who haven’t been vaccinated yet that now they need to, if they want to enjoy things outside their home.”

Another change from last year is that secondary students have a wider range of electives and courses to choose from. High schools will be on a semester system, instead of the quarter system used last year.

But unlike last year, a remote learning option—which allowed students to learn from home while retaining their space at their school of choice—is not being offered. Baverstock said the distributed learning offering has had low registration so far, and that she’s hopeful families will choose to send their students back to in-person school.

“Having those classroom experiences is what public education is also about—the social emotional learning and the connections, and I think that’s more important than ever when we’ve been navigating through this social isolation,” she said, adding that she is “cautiously optimistic.”

Baverstock said the district has been making requests to the ministry for additional funding, especially for older elementary schools without HVAC systems. Where there was no HVAC system, last year windows and doors were kept open in an attempt to keep air circulating as much as possible.

“There’s obviously much more that we have to actually look at and see, do we need to add additional ventilation this year given what we know about COVID now versus a year ago,” said Baverstock.

So far, she said she has fielded fewer questions from teachers than last year. Many are still trying to enjoy the last days of their summer and gear up for another difficult September. Meetings are ongoing to discuss specific guidelines for Richmond schools.

“We’re all committed to keeping schools open, to keeping students safe, to keeping our own families safe and our colleagues safe,” said Baverstock.

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