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Burnaby teachers wage pro-mask student poster campaign amid COVID-19

Local union president says teachers frustrated by lack of provincial mask mandate in schools
Frustration with the province’s refusal to make masks mandatory at schools during the COVID-19 pandemic has inspired the Burnaby Teachers’ Association to take matters into its own hands – with a poster contest.

The local teachers union launched the contest in November and announced the winners last month.

“We’re hearing frustration from a number of teachers that there isn’t stronger provincial mask-wearing language. So, being that we can’t enforce that, this is just another way that we can encourage a culture of mask wearing,” BTA president Daniel Tetrault told the NOW.

The local teachers union took out an ad in the local newspaper last month for the same reason, but Tetrault said that had been part of a provincial initiative by the BC Teachers’ Federation while the poster contest was a homegrown idea.

“Students might not relate as much to some of our BCTF ads or government ads, but they might relate more to their friends’ ads or their own ads. That might be more relatable to them and eye-catching,” Tetrault said.

Copies of the posters will go up at schools across the district this month, he said.

Mask wearing is currently mandatory only for staff and students in grades 6 to 12 – and only when they’re in high-traffic areas such as hallways or when they’re outside of their cohort.

The BTA would like to see staff and students mask up all the time.

“It just adds another layer of protection,” Tetrault said. “All the time would be ideal, but especially when physical distancing can’t happen. That’s already a requirement in common areas. This is just increasing it.”

The local union president said teachers’ frustration around the lack of a mask mandate is centred around the provincial health office, not the Burnaby school district.

“The district, even if they wanted to have a mask mandate, they’re prevented from the provincial health order. At least that’s their position,” he said. 

Tetrault was one of a dozen teachers’ union presidents who signed a letter to the Fraser Health Authority this month demanding public health officials in the region operate more transparently and do more to protect schools from COVID-19.

In the meantime, Tetrault hopes the students’ posters will raise awareness and encourage a “culture of mask wearing.”

“In general, teachers, staff, students – and parents for that matter – have been committed to wearing masks, but we do recognize that there’s always room for improvement.”

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor