Students run with masks on during recess at Eagle Creek Elementary in Washington State on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021 in Arlington, Washington. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Students run with masks on during recess at Eagle Creek Elementary in Washington State on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021 in Arlington, Washington. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

New mask rules in schools provide ‘more clarity,’ but ‘does not go as far as needed’: STA

Surrey Teachers’ Association president says there isn’t ‘a whole lot of change’ from previous mandate

Surrey Teachers’ Association president Matt Westphal says the implementation of B.C.’s latest mask rules in schools are “better now than later,” but the school year “should have started with a stricter approach and then lightened it up if need be.”

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Minister of Education Jennifer Whiteside announced Thursday (Feb. 4) that masks would be mandatory in middle and secondary schools, except for three scenarios: when students are at their own desk or workstation, when they are eating or drinking and when there is a plexiglass barrier between them.

READ ALSO: B.C. expands mandatory mask rules in schools, rolls out ‘rapid response teams’, Feb. 4, 2021

That means that masks will be required even when students are only interacting with their learning groups, which can include up to 120 students for high schools. The rules originally introduced in September only required students in middle and high schools to wear masks in high traffic areas such as hallways, and only outside of learning groups.

Westphal said Thursday’s announcement was a step in the right direction, but he added it doesn’t go as far as the STA thinks it needs to go “to make schools as safe as they should be.”

The STA, along with the BC Teachers’ Federation, have been calling for stronger mask mandates throughout the 2020/2021 school year.

READ ALSO: ‘We are not safe,’ Surrey Teachers’ Association says in letter to Dr. Henry, Dec. 15, 2020

READ ALSO: Surrey Teachers’ Association sends letter to education board, Nov. 28, 2020

READ ALSO: Schools exempt from new mask mandate, but concern mounting in Surrey, Nov. 20, 2020

“There isn’t a whole lot of change from what the current rules are,” Westphal told the Now-Leader following the announcement. “For one thing, they say middle school and high school, even though most school districts don’t have middle school. We think an age-based division would make sense for (grades) 6 and 7.”

In the Surrey school district, there are only elementary and secondary schools.

“For the elementary students,” Westphal explained, “we were glad to see that they took out the wording in their documents saying ‘Masks are not recommended’ because school districts interpreted that as being ‘they should not’ rather than now they’re saying they’re not required, but if people want to they can.”

Masks will now also be mandatory for middle and high school students who are singing in music classes, while those playing instruments must be at least two metres apart. For physical education classes, high-intensity activities must be held outside “as much as possible.” Any shared equipment, such as treadmills, weights and musical instruments, can only be used if they are cleaned between use.

Westphal said he believes what happened at Earl Marriott Secondary, when “close to 50” COVID-19 cases were were linked to five classes, including PE classes, “could have happened at any number of schools.”

READ ALSO: 50 cases of COVID-19 linked to five classes at Earl Marriott Secondary, Jan. 3, 2021

READ ALSO: Health officials to ‘re-look’ at PE protocols after nearly 50 infected at Earl Marriott, Jan. 5, 2021

“What happened at Earl Marriott indicated there’s some issues with the PE protocols,” he said.

“I think part of the issue with PE is that the messaging you’ve heard all along is the learning groups are a safe, a low-risk environment, so I think a lot of the PE teachers took that to heart that then they may have engaged in things that now are not being recommended.”

Asked if a stronger mask mandate, implemented earlier, could have helped ease transmission, Westphal said it’s not something he can prove, “but I think it stands to reason that stricter guidelines might have prevented some of the transmissions and exposures that we’ve had.”

He noted that when it comes to transmission, he’s been told the health authority considers it school transmission “only if they can rule out any other possible place where it could have been transmitted.

“I think it may be understating how much school transmission there is, given the very strict criteria they use for classifying it for a school-based transmission.”

Like us on Facebook Follow us on Instagram and follow Lauren on Twitter

– With files from Katya Slepian


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

Just Posted

High winds Friday made perfect conditions for kite-surfers near the White Rock Pier. (Aaron Hinks photo)
PHOTOS: Kite-surfers take flight near White Rock Pier

Aerial performance put on near iconic waterfront attraction

B.C. researchers are asking for the public’s help in monitoring the bat population. (Cathy Koot photo)
Semiahmoo Peninsula residents asked to monitor bat activity

Researchers keeping eye on spread of white-nose syndrome

White Rock City Hall (Peace Arch News photo)
City of White Rock seeking input on draft financial plan

Plan includes tax rate increase of 4.28 per cent

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. (Graeme Roy/The Canadian Press)
CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of Feb. 28

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

(Black Press - file photo)
WEATHER: Enjoy the sun today, prepare for a week of rain

Clouds and rain to arrive by evening, Environment Canada forecasts

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, start with the vaccination of police officers in internal police vaccination centers. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
B.C. officials to unveil new details of COVID vaccination plan Monday

Seniors and health-care workers who haven’t gotten their shot are next on the list

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man shot and killed by RCMP near Tofino, police watchdog investigating

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday December 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s compromise on in-person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Would allow outdoor services of 25 or less by Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack churches

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)
Alina Durham, mother of Shaelene Bell, lights candles on behalf of Bell’s two sons during a vigil on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO and PHOTOS: Candlelight vigil for missing Chilliwack woman sends message of hope

Small group of family, friends gathered to shine light for 23-year-old mother Shaelene Bell

Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. addict says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Approximate location of the vehicle incident. (Google Maps)
Vehicle incident blocking Coquihalla traffic in both directions

Both directions of traffic stopped due to vehicle incident

Most Read