On October 1, all K-12 schools in BC received an update to the current Covid-19 safety protocols which extended the mandatory mask requirement to K-3 effective next week. This announcement may come as a relief to some. We ask that all parents and caregivers take the time to discuss what this announcement means for their family and to prepare their K-3 child for the change in health measures.
What do we know at this time?
- We know that several schools in the Fraser Valley, including one of our closest partners, Abbotsford Christian School, have experienced significant increases of students contracting Covid-19. The Delta variant is far more contagious in schools this fall than previous variants and several schools east of us have experienced outbreaks.
- At LCS since September 7 there have been more cases of Covid-19 amongst our K-6 students than in middle and high school. However, approximately 90% of our Fraser Health notifications are for self-monitoring as opposed to self-isolation, indicating that we have a high percentage of vaccinated families. The contract tracing procedures for K-12 schools can be found here if interested.
- Our current mask exemption practice for grades 4-12 has been mostly effective when measured against the specific guidelines we were provided with. We see no reason to change that policy at this time, but will continue to monitor its effectiveness. To date, we have had no exposure notifications from Fraser Health involving high school students.
- Where there have been challenges in the application of the Grades 4-12 mask mandate, our policy has been to choose reminders and education over punitive measures to enforce compliance. Our emphasis is that learning, relationships and connections are vitally important to student health. Our emphasis is that doing what is right for your community should motivate us to support health initiatives.
- Mask wearing is an additional layer of protection to help prevent disease transmission, but health authorities are emphasizing vaccines as more critical to reduce the impact on the health care system. Regular hand washing and daily health checks that prevent children and staff with symptoms from coming to school, are far more effective layers of protection when working with young children in grades K-3.
- We also know that learning loss, particularly in language and literacy, at the formative early education stage (K-3) are devastating to a child’s long term health and wellness. Many of the most effective language and literacy learning interventions require face-to-face communication. Therefore, the guidelines also give discretion to teachers to exercise professional judgment, when safe to do so, to temporarily remove masks to perform tasks that cannot be performed from behind a mask, such as when conducting explicit teaching activities like guided reading, which are essential to ensure all kids learn to read in K-3.
- Last year, we experienced, as many schools did across BC, a noticeable increase in referrals for at-risk behaviours, anxiety and depression, when regular activities and opportunities for connection at school were limited. Our goal has been since March 2020, to keep our school open and accessible, and to maintain as many regular activities and programs as possible under the circumstances.
- The K-12 safety protocols place considerable responsibility on parents to carefully assess, monitor and support the measures recommended as layers of protection for our community. In other words, supporting the community health measures rests more on parents and caregivers than on schools, and there are limits to what LCS staff can enforce when our professional priority is placed foremost on maintaining the relationships, connection and learning necessary for longterm health and wellness. If the home is not supportive of maintaining the integrity of health measures, then we are limited.
- Some larger K-12 school boards have in recent weeks unilaterally added further restrictions and more rigid enforcement on students in classrooms. Because those guidelines are created through collaboration with all K-12 stakeholders in BC, our position is that it is more responsible for LCS to implement the K-12 safety guidelines as they are actually written. Our data also does not support more rigid measures at this time. If and when circumstances require us to consider measures which go beyond what is minimally provided, we will consult with and take direction from Fraser Health.
- In advance of the October 1 announcement, Dr. Rika Gustafson shared the following information with K-12 school leaders:
- As anticipated, K-12 case counts are increasing, as those under the age of 12 are not yet eligible to receive a vaccination.
- The volume of testing for K-12 students has increased dramatically but the 5 -11 age group has the lowest percentage of positive diagnoses among the unvaccinated population.
- Transmission continues to be primarily from home or community gatherings/activities outside of school.
- The Delta variant is more infectious but young people are experiencing milder symptoms and illness.
- Getting vaccinated when accessible, staying home when you are sick, proper hand cleaning protocols and mask use are all effective ways to control the spread of COVID-19.
How is LCS proceeding in support of the mask update to include K-3?
- Our Board passed a resolution earlier this year to fully support the community health guidelines. Our position in implementing them, and affirmed in consultation with Fraser Health, is that we should not add to or delete from the guidelines as they are written.
- Our current policy for grades 4-12 will remain in place. Parent/caregivers requesting a mask exemption for behavioural and health reasons filled out a mask exemption form earlier in the fall. We are asking all students and families to carefully re-consider whether their exemption is needed now under the circumstances.
- While we fully support community health initiatives, we will not use punitive enforcement measures, and we will continue to ensure that effective learning conditions are maintained for all students and staff. See page 20 of the K-12 protocols: “No student should be prevented from attending or fully participating at school if they do not wear a mask.”
- We are not requiring parents/caregivers of K-3 students to fill out a mask exemption form. We recognize that there are many more developmental reasons why a K-3 student might meet the criteria for a permanent or temporary mask exemption. The expectations of a 12 year old are not what we would expect from a 6 year old.
- We believe that parents/caregivers are in the best position to make a decision about whether their K-3 aged child can tolerate wearing a mask, and will decide to send their child to school with a mask if the child is able. The criteria is outlined below. Teachers will not be expected to help K-3 students in constantly adjusting, putting on and/or removing their masks.
- We will continue to emphasize other measures that more effectively reduce disease transmission at K-3. Preschool students are not required to wear a mask.
- We will have additional masks available for students who need one.
- Teachers will continue to find creative ways to teach an engaging curriculum and ensure learning is not disrupted. Our operations staff will provide the resources that teachers need to create safe environments.
Mask Exemption Criteria K-12
The guidance outlining mask requirements does not apply to staff, students and visitors in the following circumstances:
- to a person who cannot tolerate wearing a mask for health or behavioural reasons;
- to a person who is unable to put on or remove a mask without the assistance of another person;
- if the mask is removed temporarily for the purposes of identifying the person wearing it;
- if the mask is removed temporarily to engage in an educational activity that cannot be performed while wearing a mask;
- if a person is eating or drinking;
- if a person is behind a barrier; or
- while providing a service to a person with a disability or diverse ability (including but not limited to a hearing impairment) where visual cues, facial expressions and/or lip reading/movements is important.
LCS administrators will continue to monitor the situation in classrooms at LCS and will make adjustments to all practices and protocols as needed to ensure staff and students are safe and supported in their teaching and learning. In the spirit of Philippians 2:4, we invite you to value others above ourselves and not contribute further to the anxiety and division of the wider community. Grace and love extended authentically means that we walk in integrity and honestly to support public health, but also are slow to judgment toward those who have legitimate reasons for why they cannot consistently wear a mask. In unity and perseverance, we will continue to provide a safe educational environment where every child and family can thrive and the character of Jesus prevails in us all.