The B.C. Ministry of Education has released updated guidelines that will require some students and staff to wear face coverings in high traffic areas when they return to classrooms in September.

The statement released Monday announces that students in middle and secondary school—grades 6 to 12—and staff will have to wear non-medical face masks in areas like buses and hallways, where physical distancing cannot be maintained.

See also: B.C. K-12 students will return to classrooms on September 10

The ministry says exceptions will be made for those who cannot wear a mask for medical reasons.

“Even when wearing a mask, staff and students will still be required to maintain physical distance from people outside of their learning group,” reads the statement.

“Efforts will be put in place to ensure there is not crowding, gathering or congregating of people from different learning groups in a school setting, even if non-medical masks are being worn.”

The province is funding the purchase of up to 1.5 million face masks, to make sure every public school student and staff member has at least two masks available.

In addition, schools will be required to make sure masks are available for staff in case someone falls ill while at school.

A PPE manufacturer in Ontario, Canadian Shield, is also donating 54,500 face shields for K-12 schools in B.C., to add to the inventory of personal protective equipment that will be available for students and staff.

Further guidelines include:

  • increased cleaning of high-contact surfaces like doorknobs, keyboards, desks and chairs,
  • requiring staff and visitors to clean their hands before boarding buses, entering school buildings, before and after eating, using the washroom and using playground equipment, and
  • potentially installing transparent barriers for staff who have more contact with others, like front-desk workers, bus drivers or food services staff, where appropriate.

Earlier this month, amid backlash for rushing a back-to-school plan, the Ministry of Education announced that students will return to classrooms two days later than planned in order to give teachers and staff enough time to familiarize themselves with new health and safety procedures.

See also: BC Teachers Federation endorses reducing classroom density, masks in common spaces

This means teachers will undergo an orientation process on September 8 and 9, and pass down guidance and information to students when they head back on September 10.

Mandatory masks for high traffic areas within the school system has long been advocated for by people like B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Teri Mooring.

“I’m quite confident that the [mandatory mask] policy will be in place before the school starts,” predicted Mooring in an interview with Victoria Buzz on August 13.

“There need to be measures in place that people know will keep them safe and that’s one of the basic ones.”

This policy will not apply to elementary school students.

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