I sit in disbelief at the news conference just held to announce ‘enhanced’ safety measures in schools. Rather than increasing the mask mandate, the Minister has just given every student permission to NOT wear a mask when standing by or sitting in their desk! No teacher can require students to wear masks in their classroom but that teacher must wear a mask. The announcement applies to all students in middle and secondary schools but not to elementary schools. Let’s examine this pronouncement.
First, the idea that a student in grade six and seven in a middle school is different from a student in the same grade in an elementary school is ridiculous. The rationale given by the PHO for the difference is that younger children do not get as sick from the virus. Also, students under the age of ten do not seem to spread the virus as much as those over age ten. Do the PHO and Minister not know that, no matter what the school configuration, children in the same grade are the same age? And both are over the age of ten.
Second, the PHO justifies the no masks in elementary by saying: “it’s challenging for younger people to wear masks”. How are our students any different from those in Ontario, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan Alberta and Quebec? I have two elementary aged grandchildren who have no trouble wearing masks. It is challenging for children to be in school all day, but they do so every day. It is challenging for the children to learn certain concepts, but we expect them to do so. The rationale used by the PHO and supported by the Government and BCSTA is hogwash! Young children all over Canada and all over the world wear masks in school every day and they should do the same here.
Third, the Government says they have enhanced the safety in schools. This is a lie. The union contract gives teachers autonomy on decision making within their classroom and some were insisting students wear masks in the classroom. Now they no longer have that right. Every student can remove their mask when standing by or sitting at their desk. Th PHO and Minister stated that this is in line with every other workplace. Are you kidding me? Or, are they just plain stupid? Every other workplace has two meters social distancing by the PHO’s own orders. There is no social distancing in a classroom where you stuff thirty students in an enclosed space, many without windows. This ruling ensures schools are less safe than they were yesterday!
Fourth, The PHO always uses the line that ‘transmission in schools is low’ but when asked for those statistics by a reporter she refused to give them. The line is meant to reassure us all but why are we not given the statistics to back this up. We are in a terrible place in this province averaging 400 new cases per day and daily deaths in the teens. We have one of the lowest rates of testing and vaccinating in the developed nations and we still will not deploy rapid testing and give access to the Covid app. Having faith that this leadership will protect our children and keep our schools safe is like the gingerbread man trusting the fox to transport him across the river.
Finally, while the ruling on choir and physical education classes provides some clarity there was absolutely nothing on the enhancement of remote learning to facilitate the hybrid model. Even more important there were no resources given to improve the lack of social distancing. Is it any wonder why the only partner on stage was the BCSTA who in all likelihood never canvassed the membership. The BCTF continues to have no sway with the Government they helped elect and even the Superintendents appear to be distancing themselves from these announcements. While the Minister claims these are collaborative decisions, there is certainly no evidence of that being the case.
The definition of “enhance” is “to intensify, increase or further improve the quality of”. This announcement did exactly the opposite. Allowing students to remove their masks in the classroom endangers the health of every student and employee in the school. This announcement can only be classified as stupid and unfortunately there is no cure for stupidity. It reinforces that the precautionary principle has again been abandoned by the PHO as reinforced near the end of the press briefing when she interjected “mask wearing can be counter productive.” Who does that?
This Government, the PHO and the BCSTA should be ashamed of the inaction they took today. Schools are now less safe than they were yesterday!
Doug Player February 4, 2021.