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Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district won’t heed request for mandatory masks right now

School board discusses letter from group of doctors urging masks for all age groups
High school students in Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district will be required to wear masks in high-traffic areas. (Stock photo)

A group of B.C. doctors is asking for Nanaimo Ladysmith school district’s support in making mask wearing mandatory for students, staff and teachers.

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ teachers are scheduled to be back in school Sept. 8 to become acclimatized with COVID-19 safety protocols, with students back in school beginning Thursday, Sept. 10. Masks will be required of district secondary school students and staff in high-traffic areas, but there will be no mask requirement for elementary school students.

In a letter to the school board, the doctors, grouping themselves as Masks 4 B.C., noted that some form of mandatory mask wearing is in effect for schools in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Québec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories and Alberta. They expressed concern that “there is no firm plan to ensure the safety of students, teachers and other school staff” in the province.

“From Dr. Bonnie Henry’s press conferences, it is clear that she is unfortunately not planning on mandating masks in schools,” the organization wrote to the school district. A separate letter to the B.C. government from Masks 4 Canada, an affiliate, suggests mandatory face coverings in all indoor spaces including hospitals, schools, businesses, buses, among crowds and other places where social distancing is difficult. The organization doesn’t recommend penalties for non-compliance, but rather education on how to wear masks properly and their importance.

Stephanie Higginson, B.C. School Trustees Association president and Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district trustee, said the association believes in a science-based approach and supports the provincial health measures in place.

“If provincial health tells us [mandatory masks] are required to keep us safe then we’ll move to that,” said Higginson. “But at this point, there are health risks associated with mask-wearing, particularly with young kids.”

She said if she were an elementary school teacher, she would have concerns about having to touch 25 kids’ faces who would be asking for help with their masks.

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Charlene McKay, Nanaimo-Ladysmith school board chairperson, expressed similar sentiments.

“Honestly, we are quite comfortable encouraging the guidelines set out by the public health office and respecting and supporting parents and students to wear their masks where and when they feel comfortable,” McKay said.

The Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district voted to accept the Masks 4 B.C. letter as correspondence at its Sept. 2 meeting.

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Karl Yu

About the Author: Karl Yu

After interning at Vancouver Metro free daily newspaper, I joined Black Press in 2010.
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