British Columbia

Port Moody principal forced to retract in-class mask policy 1 day after introducing it

In a notice to students and parents, Heritage Woods Secondary School says school rules about mask wearing cannot override the expectations of the provincial health officer.

New rule mandating masks not allowed because it overrides guidelines of provincial health officer

Heritage Woods Secondary School is pictured in Port Moody, British Columbia on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The principal of Heritage Woods Secondary School in Port Moody has been forced to backtrack one day after introducing a policy calling for students to wear face masks in class.

"It has since come to my attention that I am not able to override the expectations of the provincial health officer," wrote Todd Clerkson in a retraction notice sent out Wednesday.

"My intention was to add some peace of mind for students, parents and staff by adding an extra layer of protection," he said. "I sincerely apologize for the confusion and flip-flopping."

Last month, the province announced middle and secondary school students and staff will have to wear masks in areas where physical distancing cannot be maintained — like hallways and on buses — but not in classrooms.

On Aug. 10, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said physical distancing, handwashing and other measures  were better at preventing COVID-19 transmission than mask wearing. 

"There is a role for masks, absolutely," she said. "We know, though, that masks are the least effective part of our layers of protection, and we will be building all of those into our school system to make sure that we can have safe and effective education of our children, given that we are in a global pandemic." 

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry appearing in an ad about the return to school in B.C. (BCGovNews/Twitter)

Henry said the provincial policy was in line with what Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam had mandated.

According to the interim head of Fraser Health, there are reasons masks are not required in classrooms.   

"They can do harms," said Dr. Elizabeth Brodkin. "They are not comfortable, They can interfere with learning. They can interfere with socializing.

"I think Dr. Henry is trying to balance the good that masks can do in those very specific circumstances where distancing is not possible and where exposure might happen, against the harms that the wearing of masks can do," she said.

Clerkson declined an interview request. CBC News also reached out to the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education. 

In his retraction, Clerkson said he was just trying to make the best decisions possible for the Heritage Woods community.

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