An empty learning space at Kelowna’s Canyon Falls Middle School. (Capital News file photo)

Pressure growing on Central Okanagan trustees to advance COVID health protocols

Both Vancouver and Surrey school boards this week adopted mask mandates to include Kindergarten to Grade 3 students

The Central Okanagan Board of Education may not be able to let the provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry alone dictate public health protocols in local public schools.

Beyond parents speaking to the trustees at both the September scheduled board meetings for the 2021-22 school year, school boards in Surrey and Vancouver have stepped up to pass a mask mandate for all students from Kindergarten to Grade 12.

As of this week, Henry continued to say she does not intend to expand the provincewide mask mandate beyond Grade 4-12 students, despite the fact K-3 students have no opportunity yet to be vaccinated amid the current Delta wave spreading across North America.

Instead, she urges all eligible British Columbians, those 12 and older, to get vaccinated in order to protect younger children not yet eligible to receive the vaccine.

But acknowledging at Wednesday’s board of education meeting about the decisions reached by the Vancouver and Surrey school boards regarding the K-12 mask mandate, chair Moyra Baxter said if Central Okanagan trustees introduce a motion it will be publicly debated.

“We will just have to see how this all unfolds,” Baxter said.

Vancouver school board trustee Alan Wong told the Vancouver Sun the mask mandate vote was unanimous in response to lots of emails and calls from concerned parents, especially those who live at home with grandparents who may be more vulnerable to the virus.

Wong said the school board doesn’t believe there is a difference between K-3 and Grade 4-12 students when it comes to wearing a mask.

“These students see other kids wearing masks at school and are probably wondering why they don’t have to wear them,” he said. “It was an arbitrary cut-off.”

The decision also has the support both of the BC Teachers’ Federation and CUPE BC, which represents more than 30,000 workers in the K-12 public education system.

READ MORE: B.C. parents, teachers, unions call on school districts to announce mask mandates

Wong said the decision will now be sent to the school superintendent to review any legal issues, and will seek input from Henry’s office as well, leaving the possibility of the policy being implemented as early as next week.

This week, the Surrey school board followed the Vancouver school board’s lead voting to adopt the same mask policy, a decision that will place the issue on the policy radar of school districts across the province.

Baxter has said previously how school boards are caught in the middle of the pandemic debate, adhering to the policies set by the provincial health officer, while hearing from upset parents on both sides of the mask wearing and vaccine issues.

At the Sept. 15 board meeting, Baxter told those speaking on the issue that coming to the school board with their complaints is arguing before the wrong government body, as school boards follow provincial mandated pandemic health protocols.

But at Wednesday’s meeting, one parent spoke about concerns of the school district looking out for the welfare of his children in school, noting not one child in B.C. has yet died from COVID and how hosting vaccine clinics in schools might cause students to feel pressured to get the shot when parents should be involved in any health care decisions affecting their children.

Jeff Frank, who has spoken out publicly against the safety of vaccines, also spoke to the trustees Wednesday, essentially challenging the trustees on a series of questions including if they support mask mandates, vaccine clinics in schools and if vaccines should be mandatory for everyone.

Both parents were coming from different viewpoints, but they were united in reaching out to the school board to take further action than what the provincial health officer has or has not done.

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