A sign at Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ administration office. (News Bulletin file)

A sign at Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ administration office. (News Bulletin file)

New mask rules should have been implemented earlier, says Nanaimo teachers’ union

Grade 4-12 students now mandated to wear masks indoors, even when at their desks

Nanaimo-Ladysmith teachers’ union says new rules that will see more students wearing masks are a long time coming.

More stringent regulations took effect today, April 1, requiring face coverings for students from Grades 4-12 indoors and on school buses. Denise Wood, Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association president, said she is happy the rules have been broadened; however, it is something that the union had been asking for since August.

“It’s unfortunate that it’s taken so long and it’s kind of a result of some of the unfortunate things that are happening around the province,” Wood said. “Luckily, so far Vancouver Island has been relatively calm for COVID exposures, although Nanaimo I think is probably the most active school district in terms of COVID.”

Wood said the mask mandate will certainly help provide some additional protections the union has been calling for.

“It’s supposed to be the last layer of protection, on top of hand-washing, keeping everything clean and physical distancing,” said Wood. “Given that physical distancing is impossible in our schools, it’s kind of an important layer of protection.”

The rules were accompanied by strong encouragement for students from kindergarten to Grade 3 to wear masks, something Wood said “is fine as is.”

With school resuming this past Monday following a spring break, there were concerns from the regional COVID-19 rapid response team regarding a spike in COVID-19 cases, something shared by Wood.

“How many kids were in Whistler over spring break? … that is a concern for sure,” said Wood. “I think we‘ve got a nice long weekend that will provide a buffer. As long as everyone’s staying home right now, next week will be the tell.”

In an e-mail, Scott Saywell, school district superintendent and CEO, said administrators are focused on staff and student safety and will continue following public health directives.

“We will continue with our comprehensive cleaning and safety plans,” Saywell said in an e-mail. “Cleaning of high-touch surface areas at least twice per day, the use of disinfectant sprayers, daily health checks for staff and students and repeated messaging asking those exhibiting symptoms to stay home and get tested.”

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