All B.C. students in grades 4-12 now required to wear masks indoors, ministry says

·2 min read
The new health orders require all students from Grade 4 up to wear non-medical masks, even while seated at their desks.  (Martin Bureau/AFP via Getty Images - image credit)
The new health orders require all students from Grade 4 up to wear non-medical masks, even while seated at their desks. (Martin Bureau/AFP via Getty Images - image credit)

British Columbia's Ministry of Education now requires all students in grades 4-12 to wear a mask indoors, including while they're at their desks or on a school bus.

The ministry is also encouraging indoor mask use for students in kindergarten through Grade 3.

The updated guideleines were released Tuesday night. The mask requirement applies to staff in all grades.

The guidelines say exceptions will be made for anyone unable to wear a face covering for health or behavioural reasons, for those who cannot put on or remove a mask on their own, or while students are eating or drinking or if they're behind a barrier.

Masks can also be temporarily removed while engaging in education activities that cannot be performed with a mask on, like playing a wind instrument or taking part in high-intensity sports.

COVID cases climbing

Previously, only students in middle and secondary schools across B.C. were required to wear non-medical masks in all indoor areas of schools.

The B.C. Teachers' Federation has been calling for a broader mask mandate for months.

Over the weekend, a mask requirement was imposed for students in grades 4-12 in the Surrey school district.

On Monday, the province implemented sweeping restrictions on indoor dining and group fitness for a three-week "circuit breaker" as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to grow at an alarming pace.

Masks are strongly encouraged for students in grades K-3, but are not required.
Masks are strongly encouraged for students in grades K-3, but are not required. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

As part of the new orders, public health guidance for schools were also amended and to encourage students down to Grade 4 to wear masks while at school. Teachers were supportive of the changes, but had hoped for more.

As late as Tuesday morning, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry told The Early Edition host Stephen Quinn that wearing masks indoors for elementary students was recommended but not a public health order.

It's unclear what led to the policy change.

On Tuesday night, a spokesperson with the Ministry of Education emailed CBC News to say the guidelines for students had been updated.

"The strengthened mask guidelines is another layer of protection, along with many others in our K-12 health and safety protocols to address community transmission and mitigate the spread of COVID-19," the ministry said in an email.