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'Students and staff within schools are safe': SD57 says all COVID-19 practices being followed after new restrictions, orders issued

Schools were not included in Dr. Bonnie Henry's new mandatory mask policy
School District 57 office on Ferry Avenue in Prince George. (via Jess Fedigan, PrinceGeorgeMatters)

After Dr. Bonnie Henry announced sweeping restrictions across the province on Thursday (Nov. 19), Prince George's school district is ensuring the community of safety. 

The provincial health officer announced orders that previously applied to Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health are now being applied to every authority in B.C until Dec. 7.

Henry also made a shocking announcement in issuing an order approval to the Public Safety and Solicitor General that will mandate masks to be worn in all indoor public and retail spaces after businesses asked her for stricter guidelines.

Both employees and customers will be required to wear face-coverings when visiting a business, except when doing activities like eating or drinking.

One area left out of her mandate is schools, with many wondering why learning environments would not be included for safety reasons. 

Henry explained a school is a controlled environment, which does not see numerous people coming and going out of a building each day compared to a grocery store or other large public indoor setting. 

In response, School District 57 (SD57) has released a statement, saying it's confident school environments are beyond safe. 

"As a board, we have to ask ourselves what problem are we trying to fix in schools?," newly-elected Board Chair Trent Derrick said. 

"There is abundant evidence that schools are safe. 

"Students and staff within schools are safe. It is clear our health authority approved safety plans and protocols are working." 

The district also says the following rules and protocols are in place, as per its statement:

  • It appears that our Provincial Health Officer is focusing on higher risk activities in our communities which supports keeping our schools healthy 
  • Evidence is that schools are four times safer than our general communities with only 540 out of over 22,000 cases in our province being connected to a school 
  • Schools are rarely seen to be environments of transmission
    • Typically, a positive test arises from transmission in homes or communities and then provides a potential risk if that individual attends the school site
    • Only 12 cases out of almost 23,000 in the province have resulted from exposure at school (0.05 per cent) 
    • Individuals are much more likely to acquire COVID-19 outside of the school setting through their social networks than school
    • School is the safest place for children, youth and staff to be 
  • Masks are mandatory in our secondary schools
    • You cannot enter any of our secondary schools without wearing a mask and you cannot walk the halls or congregate in common areas without a mask 
    • There are structured times during the school day where students may have the opportunity to be mask free if they choose to do so
  • Masks are required in certain situations in our elementary schools and are optional at other times 
  • There is no best way to protect yourself
    • There are many layers of protection and for schools, it is important that anyone with symptoms stay home and that everyone in our schools follow the strict cleaning and hygiene protocols

"Children and youth have been disproportionately impacted by the controls the province has put in place," SD57 Superintendent Anita Richardson added. 

"Their mental health is a serious concern and it is important that schools remain safe and open in order to maintain some sence of normalcy." 

Richardson added she's happy to see the government researching the impacts OCIVD-19 is having on the mental health of not just youth but everyone in the community.