Masks will not be mandatory in Ontario schools in September, according to the province’s Ministry of Education.
In an email to CBC Toronto on Monday, the ministry said most health and safety requirements for the upcoming school year will remain unchanged from the end of the 2021-22 school year, which includes the use mask volunteer.
“The government will continue to provide free high quality masks to students and N95s to staff, should they choose to use them, all unchanged from the 2021-22 school year,” reads the statement. E-mail.
“School boards will continue to have access to rapid antigen tests for use in accordance with provincial testing guidelines.”
The department adds that leading medical experts, including the Children’s Health Coalition and medical officers of health, were consulted in this year’s health and safety plan.
The news comes days after the province’s chief medical officer of health said the seventh wave of COVID-19 in Ontario had peaked.
However, when the mask mandate was lifted in schools last year, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario called the move “premature” and said it would expose students at the risk of seeing in-person learning disrupted again.
Late last month, Education Minister Stephen Lecce pledged to keep Ontario’s two million students in the classroom for in-person learning this school year.
“We have taken action by deploying more than 100,000 self-contained HEPA filter units in classrooms and learning spaces, improving cleaning and continuing access to rapid antigen testing,” Lecce said in a statement. communicated.
“Our government remains focused on providing students with a positive, safe and normal school experience.”
‘Our head in the sand’: expert
Since Ontario scrapped wide-scale COVID-19 testing in December, medical experts say it’s difficult to know the true number of COVID-19 cases in the community.
“We’re basically our heads in the sand, you know, because we’re not testing it,” says pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr Anna Banerji.
With that in mind, Banerji says masks are the smartest thing to implement to keep children safe, especially since many children in Ontario are yet to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
“I think using masks is an easy thing for most people to do, to give them extra protection,” Banerji told CBC Toronto.
“Looking at what’s going to happen in the fall, where we’ve already had a seventh wave and we’re probably going to have an eighth wave…I think that’s a smart thing to do.”
Banerji says that while the summer months let everyone’s guard down, parents should be aware that children are still at risk of contracting COVID-19, especially when they return to class.
“We know more and more children are getting long COVID, children are getting inflammatory syndromes, so get your kids vaccinated.”
No surprise for school board, union
Robin Pilkey, Parkdale High Park School Trustee for the Toronto District School Board, says she wasn’t surprised by the news.
“There’s actually no difference between when people left in June and what’s going to happen in September,” Pilkey said.
Pilkey says that until last spring, school boards had the ability to mandate masks for all staff and students, even if the province only specified mandatory masks for certain grades or ages. But since mask mandates were lifted last spring, she says current legislation has removed that option.
“We can’t suddenly say, ‘Oh, we want everyone to wear a mask’ because under the law we can’t do that,” Pilkey told CBC Toronto.
Pilkey says schools continue to follow all mandates under provincial guidelines, including ventilation requirements, to keep schools safe. She notes that everyone is asked to wear a mask if necessary.
“In circumstances where people felt like they couldn’t go back to school, online teaching exists. We’re doing what we can with that.”
Karen Littlewood, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, also says she wasn’t surprised by the news. Despite this, she says the union has many concerns heading into the fall, including COVID-19 vaccination rates, a resurgence in cases, distancing in classrooms, adequate ventilation, disruption of in-person learning and even emerging cases of monkeypox.
“We need to make sure people are informed and have all the protections they need,” Littlewood said.
Littlewood says that going forward, the union will continue to consult with medical experts to ensure schools remain safe.
“I think we’re in a middle position where people are going to decide, and hopefully no one will be ashamed or embarrassed because they choose to wear a mask,” Littlewood said.
“But the more people who wear masks, the more people are vaccinated, the better everyone will be protected.”