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

Labour Minister Harry Bains addressing Surrey Board of Trade digital meeting Friday. (Screen shot)
Labour Minister says Surrey businesses’ resilience through pandemic ‘impressive’

‘Surrey’s effort in bending the curve has been among the best,’ Harry Bains says

Volunteers from Semiahmoo Secondary joined with members of the Lower Mainland Green Team and the White Rock and South Surrey Naturalists Wednesday to remove invasive plants from White Rock’s Ruth Johnson Park. (Contributed photo)
Students, volunteers remove invasive plants from White Rock’s Ruth Johnson Park

Day-long project a collaboration between city, Lower Mainland Green Team

Raj Singh Toor (left) with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudea after an official apology for the treatment of Komagata Maru passengers in 1914. (Contributed photo)
Request made for City of White Rock to honour Komagata Maru passengers

Raj Singh Toor confident city will rename ‘street, park or city asset’ in honour of 1914 tragedy

Saulteaux Cree – Saskatchewan hide and rabbit moccasins by Edith Cyr (1914-2000). (Shared with permission by Diane Jubinville)
Delta students to ‘Roc their Mocs’ March 11

Event to “teach about diversity, identity of different cultures around the world”

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C. on the COVID-19 situation. (B.C. government)
Dr. Bonnie Henry predicts a ‘post-pandemic world’ for B.C. this summer

‘Extending this second dose provides very high real-world protection to more people, sooner’

Malawian police guard AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines after the shipment arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi, Friday March 5, 2021. Canada is expecting its first shipments of AstraZeneca vaccine next week. (Associated Press/Thoko Chikondi)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 cases climb to 634 Friday, four more deaths

Currently 255 people in hospital, 66 in intensive care

A crashed helicopter is seen near Mt. Gardner on Bowen Island on Friday March 5, 2021. Two people were taken to hospital in serious but stable condition after the crash. (Irene Paulus/contributed)
2 people in serious condition after helicopter goes down on Bowen Island

Unclear how many passengers aboard and unclear where the helicopter was going

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

The Netflix logo on an iPhone. B.C. delayed imposing sales tax on digital services and sweetened carbonated beverages as part of its response to COVID-19. Those taxes take effect April 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Matt Rourke
B.C. applies 7% sales tax on streaming, vaping, sweet drinks April 1

Measures from 2020 budget were delayed due to COVID-19

Chief Don Tom of the Tsartlip First Nation was outraged after Green MLA Adam Olsen revealed on social media that the community had been experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak – a fact the First Nation had chosen to keep private to avoid racist backlash as experienced by the Cowichan Tribes when an outbreak was declared there in January. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation ‘outraged’ after Green MLA reveals COVID-19 outbreak

Tsartlip First Nation chief shares concerns about racist backlash, MLA apologizes

A lawyer wears a face mask and gloves to curb the spread of COVID-19 while waiting to enter B.C. Supreme Court, in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, Aug. 28, 2020. British Columbia’s highest court has sided with the land owner in a dispute over public access to public land. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. high court finds in favour of large landowner in fight over access to pair of lakes

The Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club launched legal action after the cattle company blocked road and trail access

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa Friday, March 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau holds firm on premiers’ health-care funding demands, COVID-19 aid comes first

Premiers argue that the current amount doesn’t keep pace with yearly cost increases of about five per cent

Free Reformed Church is seen as people attend service, in Chilliwack, B.C., on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. Lawyers for the British Columbia government and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms are back in B.C. Supreme Court today, squaring off over the legality of COVID-19 rules that prohibit in-person religious services. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. top doctor has power to restrict access to a place during health hazard: lawyer

Under B.C.’s Public Health Act, Jacqueline Hughes says, Henry can restrict or prevent entry to a place

Most Read