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

B.C.’s public health restrictions on non-essential travel are reinforced by orders effective April 23, 2021 to stay within your own regional health authority except for essential travel such as work and medical appointmens. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 non-essential travel ban takes effect, $575 fines approved

Checks on highways, ferries between Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, Interior

Bulldogs forward Stephen Castagna chases down the puck during a game against the Surrey Eagles in 2019. ELENA RARDON PHOTO
BCHL: Alberni Valley Bulldogs scoring leader commits to NCAA

Castagna is the sixth Bulldog to secure an NCAA Div. 1 scholarship this season

A B.C. Centre for Disease Control map shows new COVID-19 cases by local health area for the week of April 11-17. (BCCDC image)
BCCDC says fresh COVID-19 cases down in most Island Health areas

Nanaimo sees its fewest new COVID-19 cases since mid January

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist, an independent pharmacy in Toronto, Monday, April 19, 2021. Younger Canadians in several provinces are now able to get the AstraZeneca vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
AstraZeneca vaccine appointments fill up fast on Vancouver Island

More pharmacies expected to be added as supply increases

The bulk carrier ‘Port Alberni’ is berthed at CentrePort in Wellington, New Zealand on Monday, April 12, 2021. The carrier is 174 metres long by 29 metres wide, flies under a Hong Kong flag and was carrying logs. (CHARMEAD SCHELLA/Special to the News)
Logging ship a trip down memory lane for transplanted Canadian

The 174-metre ‘Port Alberni’ is registered in Hong Kong

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

Nic Hume and his fellow paramedic stopped to rescue the victim of an Oak Bay hit-and-run – a duck – at the end of their shift Thursday morning. (Nic Hume/Facebook)
B.C. paramedics don’t duck a chance to help someone in need

Ambulance duo end a long shift by helping a distressed duck in Victoria suburb

As the snow in Manning Park melts, searchers are able to get a little farther each day. Photo submitted
Family resumes search for son missing in B.C.’s Manning park since October

‘This is our child, and we don’t give up on our children,’ said mother of Jordan, Josie Naterer

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canada buys 65M Pfizer booster shots for protection against COVID-19 variants

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the deal with Pfizer includes options to add 30 million doses in both 2022 and 2023, and an option for 60 million doses in 2024

An early morning fire along Cameron Street has left two cats dead and two tenants homeless. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
Early morning fire guts Victoria house, leaves 2 cats dead

Victoria Fire Department called out shortly before 2 a.m.

A plan flew over the Lower Mainland with a sign expressing some Canucks fans’ discontent with the team’s general manager. (Niqhil Velji - Twitter Screenshot)
#FireBenning movement gets off the ground in Metro Vancouver

Canucks fans raise enough money to fly banner over Metro Vancouver asking for team GM to be canned

The Better Business Bureau is reminding people to do their research before starting any home improvement projects this spring. (Black Press Media file photo)
Don’t get scammed on home improvements, warns Better Business Bureau

Scams typically involve paying cash upfront for jobs that never get done, says BBB

The freed osprey keeps a wary eye on its rescuers after being deposited on its nest. (Photo credit: Greg Hiltz)
Hydro crew in Ashcroft gets osprey rescue call-out they won’t soon forget

Bird was tangled in baling wire hanging from a hydro pole, necessitating a tricky rescue

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read