FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 21, 2022
Open Letter to all BC Education stakeholders at the K-12 Education Restart Steering Committee, including Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside, BC Centre for Disease Control, BC School Trustees Association, BC Principals & Vice Principals Association, BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils, First Nations Education Steering Committee, BC Teachers’ Federation, CUPE BC, plus those contributing to policy-making with regards to schools and school safety, including Premier John Horgan and all School Trustees:
This is a call to action to all education stakeholders and leaders who contribute to and carry out education policy in BC’s K-12 schools, to continue universal masking for staff and students, instead of removing the mandate after spring break. Failure to do so will be putting children and families at risk and is breaking a basic tenet of public schools – that ALL children have the right to access an education.
Why is this? Isn’t COVID-19 “mild” now, and “endemic” like the cold or flu? Safe Schools Coalition BC would like to point out several factors that have not been adequately considered in the decision to eliminate mask mandates in schools:
• Vaccination rates in 5-11 year olds (Kindergarten to Grade 6 students) are stalled at 56% with 1 or 2 doses, including only 30% having 2 doses by March 11, 2022;
• 0-4 year olds have no vaccine access at all, many of whom live with school-aged siblings;
• Omicron sent more BC children to the hospital in 2 months than the entire previous 20 months of the pandemic;
• Pediatricians are worrying about more Long Covid in children, post-Omicron, than before;
• The Omicron BA.2 variant is causing cases and hospitalizations to rise in Europe, Hong Kong, South Korea, and China, with some experts warning it is close to measles in transmissibility and continuing to warn about serious effects, even in young, healthy people;
• Based on BC CDC surveillance reports, BA.2 has already surpassed the original Omicron strain, and a newer variant, BA.2.2, is a cause for concern;
Education leaders must recognize that public schools are unique in this pandemic. Public schools are NOT a place where families and children can “manage their own risk.” It is not the same as choosing to dine indoors at a restaurant or go to a movie theatre with unmasked people. Children must attend school. Since equitable online programs were cut this school year, children and staff must attend a physical space for extended periods of time, with possibly unmasked occupants, creating an impossible situation for higher risk families, including those who are immunocompromised or live in multi-generational households.
Public schools are supposed to be equitable and safe for all. If rules can be set for peanut-free schools, so that those with severe peanut allergies can avoid exposure, then the same needs to be done for students who themselves or whose families face higher risk from catching this virus.
Preventing COVID-19 from spreading readily through schools will also prevent currently healthy children (or their parents) from developing Long-COVID. Long-COVID in both children and adults is well-documented in other countries like the UK and the USA, and is likely as prevalent in BC (although true numbers are not counted here). MIS-C can strike previously healthy children too.
Masks are a proven and primary tool for reducing transmission of COVID-19. A recent study by the NIH of 1.1 million students across 9 different states shows that transmission was reduced by 70% in schools with universal masking compared to those with optional masking during the Delta wave. With more transmissible variants circulating, universal masking (especially with better performing masks like N95 or equivalent respirators) will also help keep schools open by ensuring adequate staffing levels.
Considering all of the above, Safe Schools Coalition BC urges all education stakeholders and leaders to apply the precautionary principle to BC’s K-12 public schools and continue the mask mandate for this school year, so that all children can be safer from the BA.2 variant as well as future variants. Failing to do so in a public school situation is discriminatory and could be a human rights violation as suggested by SFU Professor June Francis. Nova Scotia has now extended their school mask mandate; BC can too.
Schools in BC await your response – will you be inclusive and protect all children, staff, and families?
Safe Schools Coalition BC