A Surrey parent and teacher made the plea for a stronger mask mandate before the 2021-22 school year starts on Sept. 7.
The Safe Schools Coalition held its second rally to push for stronger COVID-19 measures going into the new school year. The Aug. 28 rally was held at Holland Park from noon to 1:30 p.m., with dozens in attendance. The coalition is a group of concerned parents, guardians and teachers.
Amy Johnston, a music teacher at a Surrey school and a parent of a four-year-old who’s about to head into kindergarten, said “wearing a mask is the safest thing that we can do.”
Speaking first as a parent, Johnston said her daughter will likely be the youngest in her class in September and “she has been wearing a mask in all indoor public and most outdoor public spaces for well over a year.” She added she hopes her daughter’s peers do the same when school starts.
“My daughter is not traumatized by mask-wearing. In fact, she looks forward to choosing the mask she’ll wear when we go out. My daughter and I, we talk about why we wear masks, even when others do not, because wearing a mask is the safest thing that we can do.”
Johnston noted her daughter was in the neonatal intensive unit for 10 weeks after she was born, needing help to breathe for the first two weeks.
“I hope that no parent will have to see their child in the ICU. I hope no parent will have this experience of obsessing over their child’s oxygen saturation levels and certainly not for a preventable illness like COVID.”
“I can’t imagine having to go through those terrifying weeks again, but I know that now, like all other children, my child is in danger from this Delta variant,” she said.
“I want kindergarten to Grade 3 students to have — at the very least — the same layers of protection that students in grades 4 through 12 will have.”
It was on Aug. 24 that Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry finally gave an update on whether or not students would be mandated to wear masks at school again.
Like last spring, masks are mandatory for staff and students in grades 4 to 12 in all indoor spaces. However, masks are only “encouraged” for children in kindergarten to Grade 3, Whiteside said.
Jennifer Heighton, one of the teacher organizers for the coalition, said the response for the rallies and online has been “quite phenomenal.”
“I think now that people know exactly what the plan is, that is what’s got people concerned.”
She said it’s really important that Whiteside extends the school mask mandate to all ages, adding “those kids are unvaccinated and it’s going to be full classes this year.”
It makes it safer for all communities going forward, said Heighton, a Burnaby school teacher.
“You never know when Delta’s going to show up in your community and it has shown up in several smaller, little areas … Wherever you are, you want to make sure your kids are safe,” she noted.
“In general, we overprotect our kids. So why is it we’re not doing it here?”