The union representing Greater Victoria teachers in School District No. 61 has joined unions representing custodial and support staff in calling for mandatory masks for many students and adults once school returns next month against the backdrop of COVID-19.
“All adults and students 10 years and older should be required to wear face masks when physical distancing is not possible,” reads the release from the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association, CUPE 382 (custodial, trades and non-trades workers) and CUPE 947 (support staff like teaching assistants).
The unions’ demand aimed at school board trustees calls for masks for students in Grade 4 and up and allows for exceptions where medical conditions prevent usage, according to the release.
“Health and safety is the number one concern as students return to schools and the mandatory wearing of face masks will be one more measure to ensure all of our safety,” it reads.
The question of making face masks mandatory with the re-opening of schools has confronted jurisdictions across the world, with the provincial government making masks mandatory for all K-12 staff and all students in middle and high schools in so-called “high traffic areas” where physical distancing is not possible.
They include buses and in common areas such as hallways, as well as anytime students are outside their learning groups and cannot maintain physical distancing.
The unions’ demand goes beyond this measure by expanding the would-be pool of students required to wear masks by including the later grades of elementary school. In this way, the unions’ demand echoes measures found in several provinces, including Ontario and Alberta, which have mandated masks for students in Grade 4 and up.
The provincial government had said earlier that masks would remain a option for elementary school students, but the ministry of education said “non-medical masks are not recommended… due to the increased likelihood they (students) will touch their face and eyes, as well as the required assistance to properly put on and take off their mask.”
The province said it will provide funding to buy 1.5 million masks, enough for all students and staff to get two non-medical masks. Manufacturer Canadian Shield has said it will donate 54,500 face shields.
School is scheduled to re-open Sept. 10.
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