Just when the New Westminster school board was ready to make masks mandatory for kindergarten-to-Grade 3 students, the province beat them to it.
The New Westminster school board had called a special meeting for noon today to reconsider the issue of extending the mask mandate to younger students – an idea they had initially turned down at their Sept. 28 board meeting.
But, before that happened, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside held a briefing this morning to announce that masks are now mandatory for all kindergarten-to-Grade 12 students in B.C.
Both Henry and Whiteside stressed vaccination – of parents, school staff and older children – as key to preventing the spread of COVID-19 in schools.
But Whiteside also noted the Delta variant has proven to be more transmissible, particularly in areas with lower vaccination rates.
“For those communities experiencing high levels of COVID, there is a greater level of concern,” she said. “This additional step gives families and parents more reassurance, I think, about the safety of the school environment.”
New Westminster school trustees, at their Friday meeting, said they were happy to see the provincial direction on the matter. They had decided on Wednesday to revisit the issue, following a change to the provincial health order around face masks that specified schools were allowed to go beyond the guidelines set in the order – but they expressed gratitude for the direction coming from the top instead.
“We’re all relieved to see this is being done provincewide,” said trustee Maya Russell. “That was really my main concern about it, that it just doesn’t seem to make sense to be doing this district by district.”
Trustee Anita Ansari agreed, saying she had initially had concerns about stepping “out of sync” with other districts.
“I’m very pleased that this decision has come from the top, and I’m happy to walk in step and do what we can to control the situation that we’re in right now,” she said.
Superintendent Karim Hachlaf said the district will take a “supportive, educational and inclusive approach” to the mask mandate.
“This is not about compliance or punishment. We want to support our youngest learners, welcoming them to school each and every day,” he said.
The new mask regulations will take effect Monday, Oct. 4 and will remain in place until at least the winter break. At that time, provincial health officials will determine whether to continue the order.
New Westminster parents will receive word from the district today (Friday) regarding the new rules.