Masks required for BC school staff, middle and secondary students

schools

B.C. has expanded its mask requirements in schools, with middle and secondary students now required to wear one indoors even when they're with their learning groups.

All staff for kindergarten to Grade 12 are also required to wear masks indoors, B.C.'s education ministry announced Thursday.

The only exceptions are when staff or students are sitting or standing at their seats or workstations in a classroom, when a barrier is in place or when they're eating and drinking.

"As the pandemic continues to evolve and as we learn more about its behaviour, our school guidelines must evolve as well," said Minister of Education Jennifer Whiteside in a news conference announcing the new rules.

"We want students, their families, and staff to feel confident with the safety measures in place – that’s why we making these updates."

Previously, masks were only required for those groups in high-traffic areas like hallways, or outside of classrooms and learning groups when distancing wasn't possible.

But for elementary students, wearing masks indoors will still be a choice.

Guidelines are also being strengthened for P.E. and music classes, the education ministry announced. High-intensity physical activities must be held outside when possible and shared equipment can only be used when it's sanitized between each use.

In music classes, students playing instruments must be spaced out at least two metres apart and they must wear masks when singing.

Whiteside said keeping schools open "remains a priority" of the government and that COVID-19 transmission in schools remains low.

B.C.'s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said Thursday that low transmission shows how hard staff have worked to keep schools safe.

"We have seen exposures in our schools and we have reported on those exposures but we need to remember that these are reflections of what is happening in our communities," Henry said. "We've had very little spread within the school setting, particularly within the classrooms, and that is a testament to how safe these are being made by everybody in the school community."

-- with files from CTV News --