All students, kindergarten to Grade 12, in Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district are now required to wear masks, after the B.C. government updated a public health order Oct. 1. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)

Nanaimo-Ladysmith teachers’ union happy with mask rules, wishes for more cleaning

Jeremy Inscho, Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association head, reacts to provincial mask mandate

Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district’s teachers’ union leader is pleased masks are now required for all students, but wishes there was better sanitizing.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C. health officer, and Jennifer Whiteside, B.C. Minister of Education, announced today, Oct. 1, that kindergarten to Grade 12 students are now required to wear masks, amending a previous mandate applying to Grades 4-12 only. Jeremy Inscho, Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association president, said starting the rule at Grade 4 “didn’t make sense,” and it is “the obvious step that should’ve been done” for the start of school. He would like to see better cleaning protocols, however.

“One thing that I think is still missing is that extra level of cleaning that we had last year,” said Inscho. “We do know that COVID itself isn’t transferred, primarily, through touch … we do know that schools were healthier and safer places for people in general from other illnesses. Cold and flu season is on us and we don’t have that level of cleaning that was in place.”

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More comprehensive reporting of COVID-19 at schools was recently instituted, but Inscho said information is only shared “once a week,” and there are issues.

“One is that it’s after the fact,” said Inscho. “People don’t know to look, or they’ll be looking regularly and is it going to be posted on Friday? On Monday? … They could be sending notices home.”

In addition, the area is known for its poverty rates and Inscho said not everyone has internet access. Part of the population is being neglected, he said.

Teri Mooring, B.C. Teachers’ Federation president, told media the provincial union is not against mandatory teacher vaccinations, so long as privacy is protected and allowances for medical exemptions are made. Inscho said the local union’s stance is members should be vaccinated if they are able to, and stressed the need to protect personal information.

“There becomes an issue when we start disclosing if people are, or are not, vaccinated because that itself is confidential medical information, but if we start to disclose the reasons why someone is not, that could get into difficult waters,” he said. “It’s a response that is very careful and thoughtful. I think, personally, that anyone who can be vaccinated should be and there’s some who can’t be and that’s OK. We take alternate measure in those cases.”

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools did not have anyone available for comment, but in a letter to parents, Scott Saywell, district superintendent and CEO, and Charlene McKay, school board chairperson, stated the new rule was developed with direction from Henry and the B.C. Centre for Disease Control in conjunction with education partners.

“While COVID-19 exposures will continue to occur in Nanaimo-Ladysmith public schools, the vast majority of the cases to date have originated from individuals who contracted the virus in the home or social settings outside of the school,” they said. “Schools continue to be safe settings for staff and students and are considered low-risk for COVID-19 transmission.”

The two encouraged anyone eligible to receive a vaccine.

Updated mask regulations will take effect this Monday, Oct. 4.

According to provincial guidelines, rules don’t apply to students who can’t “tolerate wearing a mask for health or behavioural reasons” and ones who can’t put on or remove masks without assistance of other people.

-with files from Cole Schisler/Black Press Media

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