As back-to-school approaches, some Waterloo Region parents are divided on masks

·4 min read

Toni Griffin just wants her daughter to have a normal high school year, but she feels that wearing masks at school gets in the way of that.

“The media is reporting that even fully vaccinated people can get COVID-19 ... so with that said, kids who are double vaccinated shouldn’t have to wear a mask the entire time that they’re in school,” said Griffin. “Maybe when they are sitting at their desks they can take it off.”

Griffin, a Cambridge resident, is part of a growing contingent of parents in the Waterloo Region who feel that masks hinder their children’s chances at having a normal school year. This despite data from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) that shows even double vaccinated people can spread the Delta variant.

“Last year, high school kids weren’t even allowed to go outside for recess ... I don’t think it’s fair to keep them locked up in the school with a mask on the entire time without even being able to go out and get fresh air,” said Griffin.

It should be noted that high school students in the Waterloo Region District School Board had a 45-minute nutrition break/recess during the 2020 school year in which they were allowed to go outside.

As outlined by the Province of Ontario, masks are required for all students in Grades 4 to 12. In August, the school board passed a mandate that required even students from kindergarten to Grade 3 to wear a mask. Students of all ages also have to wear masks on school buses, where social distancing isn’t possible, and all students will be provided with five reusable masks.

Parent Lyssa Roberts believes that parents and people in general who don’t support mask usage are incredibly selfish. “It’s such a small ask to help protect those around us, specifically children too young to be vaccinated and immunocompromised people,” said Roberts.

Cambridge resident Sabrina Johnson disagrees, and says that masks are having a negative impact on children. “We’re raising a generation not able to see emotion due to masks, not able to communicate their feelings by expression,” said Johnson, who believes that extra sanitation efforts may negatively impact our immune systems. “And then you’re also having the entire immune system wiped out due to the sanitation and mass cleaning and not being able to come in contact with other children at all.”

Research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows that social distancing and precautions do not weaken one’s immune system. Because COVID-19 wasn’t common among humans before 2019, the majority have not had a chance to build up immunity.

McGill University biologist and science communicator Jonathan Jarry says that there are five main reasons people oppose masks: medical reasons, real or imagined; disliking how wearing a mask makes them feel; pseudo-scientific rationalizations; infringement on personal freedom; and government conspiracy.

Jarry says that people who claim that masks infringe on their personal freedom are part of a psychological phenomenon known as reactance. “Reactance is this idea that when you feel like your freedom is being constrained in some way, your brain fights back and doesn't like that,” said Jarry.

Not to mention there is no research supporting masks being harmful to children. Research from the American Pediatric Association shows that masks do not impact breathing in children. Carbon dioxide molecules are even smaller than respiratory droplets and cannot be trapped by breathable materials like cloth or disposable masks, nor do they change the quality of the air that comes through the masks.

Another study from the American Pediatric Association shows that face masks don’t impact children’s speech or language development. It was found that when one sense, such as facial expression, was taken away, children would use tone of voice, gestures and eyes to develop language and speech patterns.

Parent Vanessa Buchan says that parents who oppose masks often don’t have children’s best interests in mind. “Sometimes I think the parents who are against masks for students have issues with masks for themselves more than for the actual children themselves,” said Buchan.

“The children that I have been around, especially my daughter, they’re adaptable,” said Buchan. “If we show them that we must take care of other people as well as ourselves, I don’t know a child that has been against that yet.”

STORY BEHIND THE STORY: When reporter Genelle Levy asked parents what their biggest concerns were with heading back to school, she found a contingent of parents who cited wearing masks as their No. 1 worry. So she decided to look into the divide between pro-mask and anti-mask parents.

Genelle Levy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cambridge Times

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