Mask rules extended to Vancouver students in kindergarten to Grade 3 after board vote
The Vancouver School Board is implementing its own mandatory mask requirement for students from kindergarten through to Grade 3.
The mandate goes beyond the provincial health order from B.C.’s top doctor, and will come into effect on Monday, Oct. 4.
Trustee Barb Parrott presented the motion Monday night, rejecting the argument that young students are unable to wear face coverings.
“I dispute that assertion. We teachers teach and the parents teach children those ages to do lots of things, including crossing the street safely,” said Parrott in a public board meeting.
The motion was seconded by trustee Allan Wong and passed unanimously.
Wong said he’s hopeful that an expanded mandate will protect vulnerable students and their families.
“There has been a lot of stress per the letters that we've been receiving, from parents of students who when the students come home they're faced with vulnerable family members as well,” said Wong.
The VSB’s decision extends the province’s mask mandate, which currently only applies to Grade 4 to 12 students.
Face coverings are required indoors including at desks and on buses.
They can be removed for eating or drinking, playing instruments, or high-intensity physical activity.
Those with disabilities or behavioural reasons are exempt.
“I think we need to just be thoughtful in our schools. We're not stigmatizing students who cannot tolerate wearing a mask for health or behavioral reasons,” said Janet Fraser, a VSB trustee.
The BC Teachers’ Federation says it's pleased with the board’s decision.
“It's great to see this level of advocacy from the Vancouver school board. The K-to-3 mask policy, or lack thereof, has been a big issue,” said Teri Mooring, president of the BCTF.
She said the majority of outbreaks have been at elementary schools.
“This is consistent with what we saw last year, actually, where we got WorkSafe data that showed us that 75 per cent of the teachers that made claims to WorkSafe based on COVID were elementary school teachers,” said Mooring.
Health Canada has not yet approved a COVID-19 vaccine for kids under the age of 12.
Pfizer recently released a vaccine for five- to 11-year-olds and Dr. Bonnie Henry has said B.C. intends on distributing it once it receives regulatory approval.
In the meantime, Mooring argues health officials need to take more preventative measures to protect kids.
“There's never been a quality rationale around why kindergarten to grade three students were excluded from the mask mandate in the first place,” Mooring told CTV News.
She’s hopeful the VSB’s decision will inspire other school districts to take matters into their own hands.
“Elected officials are in a particular role, and they have a responsibility for ensuring safe working environments as they have for the education workers, teachers and support staff,” said Mooring.
The board says more details on how the policy will be implemented will be shared with staff and students in the coming days, though it’s unclear if it can be enforced without the province’s approval.
Vancouver is the first district in the province this school year to go beyond the provincial health order.