Students in School District 8 will return to class with several new COVID-19 changes in place. File photo

Students in School District 8 will return to class with several new COVID-19 changes in place. File photo

COVID-19 guidelines for the start of school released for School District 8

Masks are mandatory for students Grades 4 and older

by Timothy Schafer

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Nelson Daily

Picture day may be the only time children see each other’s faces in school as masks will be mandatory for young people from Grade 4 and up for the coming school year in School District 8.

The district has been given its marching orders regarding how the management of the pandemic’s fourth wave will be handled once school resumes Sept. 6 and there are some changes, including masking up.

On Monday the provincial health officer along with the Ministry of Education released their Provincial COVID-19 Communicable Disease Guidelines — which every B.C. school district must adhere to under the School Act — and that now includes all people, including and beyond Grade 4, to wear a mask or face shield indoors (in class) and on school buses.

The masks are uncomfortable but necessary to help stop the spread of the virus, said SD8 superintendent Trish Smillie.

“It is important students do not have restrictions to their breathing and if they feel this is happening, it is important that they tell an adult,” she said.

However, there are several exceptions to the mask rule to ensure that students are safe, she added, including not wearing masks during high intensity activities.

Students from Kindergarten to Grade 3 are encouraged to wear a mask indoors and on school buses, “but this remains a personal or family decision.”

The song will remain the same for many of the sanitary protocols installed last year, such as cleaning and disinfecting practices in school buildings, hand sanitizing, respiratory etiquette and completing daily health assessments.

The mask policy differs from two months ago when B.C. eased its mask requirements once vaccination rates rose. But as positive cases of the Delta variant jumped the mask mandate was brought back. As well, the province introduced vaccine cards for residents over the age of 12.

Mask exceptions

There are some exceptions to the mask rule:

• for a person who cannot tolerate wearing a mask for health or behavioural reasons;

• for a person who is unable to put on the mask without the assistance of another person;

• if the mask is removed temporarily for the purposes of identifying the person wearing it;

• if the mask is removed temporarily to engage in an educational activity that cannot be performed while wearing a mask;

• if a person is eating or drinking;

• if a person is behind a barrier; and

• while providing a service to a person with a disability or diverse ability where visual cues, facial expression and/or lip reading is important.

A sporting chance

It will be game on for inter-school sports and field trips as the activities are allowable within the guidelines.

“(W)e know that these activities encourage deep learning and student motivation,” she said. “Each of these activities may be affected by regional or local health orders, so may be cancelled or limited depending on their time and location.”

Depending on health orders, spectators to inter-school sports may also be affected.

But on the playground for recess and lunch break it will be business as usual for children as cohorts or learning groups “are not recommended as an effective health and safety control,” Smillie noted.

However, schools can continue to have entrance and exit area plans, as well as staggered breaks for lunch and recess.

Get the point?

The vaccine will not be part of the school district’s mandate for anyone over or under the age of 12.

“At this point, public health is encouraging all people aged 12 and older to become fully vaccinated,” said Smillie.

The needle work is something the school will not offer since it falls into the realm of public health.

The province announced Aug. 24 it would not require elementary and high school teachers to be immunized, adding that the risk of transmission in these settings is low.

The vaccine uptake amongst teachers is high, said education minister Jennifer Whiteside, “but there is no mechanism for the government to track what percentage of that workforce has been vaccinated.”