Masks now required in schools for students in Grade 4 and up

The province says mask-wearing is now required in schools for students in Grade 4 and up, after confusion about changes announced Monday.

All school staff and all students from Grades 4 to 12 must wear masks indoors, including when they are at their desks and on school buses, the Ministry of Education said. ­Students in kindergarten to Grade 3 are “strongly encouraged” to wear masks, the ministry said.

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Students and staff who are unable to wear a mask for health or behavioural reasons are exempt. Masks can be removed temporarily to identify someone, while playing an instrument or engaging in high-intensity physical activity, while eating or drinking and if a person is behind a barrier, the ministry said.

The province previously said it was up to families whether their elementary school-aged children wore masks. Middle and high school students were already required to wear masks indoors except when in their seats or standing at a workstation in the classroom, while eating or drinking or when a barrier was in place.

The British Columbia Teachers’ Federation welcomed the change. “It is clear that students in Grades 4 to 12 are required to wear masks and that’s what we were looking for,” said union president Teri Mooring.

The union still wants the province to ensure schools have adequate ventilation systems and a plan to mix classroom and online learning when there is high transmission in the community, and to provide data on transmission in schools, Mooring said.

The province’s updated public health guidelines for masks in elementary schools initially sparked confusion, with many wondering whether masks were required or recommended. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said at Monday’s COVID‑19 briefing she was updating guidance “to support mask-wearing for all students down to Grade 4 in schools across the province.”

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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