The BC Teachers Federation (BCTF) believe the health and safety measures put forth for the upcoming academic year could have gone a little further.

On Tuesday, provincial health officials provided an update on the September 7th return to class.

Community members, staff, students, and visitors in Grade 4-12 will be required to wear non-medical masks in schools, while proof of vaccination won’t be required.

However, K-3 students will not be required to wear a mask, however, it is being recommended.

BCTF president Teri Mooring isn’t quite sure why the province fell short of a blanket mask mandate for all k-12 students.

“Unfortunately that is not going to make sense to a lot of people who understand kindergarten to grade three students aren’t eligible for vaccinations. There also wasn’t a clear reason given as to why those students should not be wearing a mask in schools.”

Mooring would also like vaccination clinics set up in all schools across the province as the 12-17-year-old age range needs to pull up their socks when it comes to getting a vaccine dose.

“The vaccination rate among that age range really lags behind the provincial average and so, we are seeing that at 57 percent. Last year, we were advocating for clinics to be setup in schools and we would like those clinics to be set up now.”

“We are not convinced all 12-17 year-olds have had clear access to the vaccine. We also know that this age group is often highly influenced by their family’s attitude towards vaccines and we need to be careful on denying children their right to an education. We would rather see education be at play with the 12-17-year-olds like indoor school clinics especially in this part of the province where we are seeing a high level of vaccine hesitancy.”

Additionally, there will no longer be cohorts or learning groups in BC schools, as provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, stated the risk of virus transmission isn’t a concern in classroom settings and is more of a risk in communal areas.

Lastly, with the Delta variant making up the majority of new infections in B.C., a more robust testing strategy is a must.

“We think a testing strategy that includes asymptomatic testing is going to be really critical this year and we are seeing that in other jurisdictions,” added Mooring.

Meanwhile, in post-secondary institutions, proof of vaccination will be required for students living on campus and participating in student life.

“People must be vaccinated to live in student housing, to go to a pub, to go to gyms including varsity students, to attend an indoor club meeting like joining a choir. And of course, the same proof of vaccination will also be required for activities that can be a big part of student life like indoor concerts and attending sports events,” said B.C. advanced education minister, Anne Kang.

As part of the new provincial vaccine requirement, accessing some non-essential services including gyms, nightclubs, restaurants, and other indoor events on campus will now require proof of vaccination.