UPDATE: The New Westminster school board just voted not to implement an extended mask mandate in schools, but trustees will write to provincial and health officials in support of a review of extending a mask mandate to kindergarten to Grade 3. See followup story here.
New Westminster’s school district parent advisory council will be making its pitch to trustees tonight for a broader mask mandate in local schools.
The New Westminster DPAC hopes school trustees will follow the lead of the Vancouver school board, which voted last night to extend the mask mandate to students in kindergarten through Grade 3. Currently, the province requires masks to be worn in classrooms by students in grades 4 through 12, as well as adults in schools.
DPAC chair Kathleen Carlsen acknowledged that mask wearing by the youngest students isn’t required by the province’s health guidelines.
“No, it’s not, but do what’s right,” she said in an interview with the Record. “There’s no downside. There’s absolutely no downside.”
Carlsen said younger children are capable of wearing masks and noted it’s one of the easiest – and most affordable – protections available for local schools.
Carlsen, on behalf of the DPAC, is one of five signatories to a letter addressed to Health Minister Adrian Dix and Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside, looking for more protections for students in light of the Delta variant and rising COVID-19 case numbers in children under age 10.
“We believe that younger students deserve the same protections from COVID as older students, as masks are an effective safety measure to stop students from breathing in the virus, which we now know is airborne,” the letter says. “We believe the existing mask mandate should be extended to younger children, with accommodations for those students who are unable to wear them for medical reasons.”
The letter is also signed by DPAC representatives from the Burnaby, Vancouver, Surrey and Sooke school districts.
Carlsen noted the DPACs wanted to approach the province with the request, as well as their local school boards, because some of the protections they’re asking for would require funding beyond the means of local school districts.
Requests outlined in the letter include enhanced contact tracing, comprehensive testing of students, a vaccine mandate for teachers and staff, and school ventilation upgrades with detailed, publicly available information about filtration and air quality.
Carlsen intends to bring a list of requests to New Westminster’s public school board meeting tonight – including a request for the continuation of full-time, daytime custodians in local schools.
She said all of the issues DPAC is raising are concerns they’ve heard from parents at meetings and through a parent survey.
“We want everybody to be aware that we’ve actually listened,” she said. “This is not just four or five executive members. This is what parents have asked for.”
Carlsen said she hears the same frustrations voiced by parents everywhere, from the soccer field to the schoolyard at pickup and drop-off.
“I feel that parents need to know that their voices are heard,” she said.
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