Parents divided over optional masking at school this fall

·3 min read
Ontario's Education Ministry said most health and safety requirements for the upcoming school year will remain unchanged from the end of the 2021-22 school year, including the voluntary use of masks.  (James Arthur Gekiere/Belga Mag/AFP/Getty Images - image credit)
Ontario's Education Ministry said most health and safety requirements for the upcoming school year will remain unchanged from the end of the 2021-22 school year, including the voluntary use of masks. (James Arthur Gekiere/Belga Mag/AFP/Getty Images - image credit)

Parents shopping for back-to-school supplies on Monday were split on whether masks would be part of their children's outfits again this fall, as the province confirmed their use will remain voluntary.

In an email to CBC News on Monday, Ontario's Education Ministry said most health and safety requirements for the upcoming school year will remain unchanged from the end of the 2021-22 school year, including the voluntary use of masks.

The ministry said medical experts were consulted while preparing this year's health and safety plan.

Carri Morrison and her 10-year-old daughter Addyson told CBC News they're relieved masks won't be mandatory in schools this fall.

"I think I'm OK with the mask mandate coming down because I think if people have the choice to do it, I think that that's what's really important. I feel like at this point in time ... it's great to have the choice," Morrison said.

"I feel like the way [people] use the masks, it's questionable whether we're really getting that much protection," she added.

"It's good that it's not mandatory because it's hard to work, hard to breathe," said Addyson, who's heading into Grade 5. "So I like that it's not mandatory, but if you want to you can wear one."

Schools a 'pandemic accelerator'

However, Dr. Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Ottawa, said while there may come a time when masking will no longer be necessary, this fall isn't it.

"We are in the middle of a health-care crisis in Ontario and across the country. We have [intesive care units] that are overtaxed. We have health-care workers that are overstressed and dropping like flies. We have a nursing shortage. We have ERs that are closing regularly," he said.

Deonandan said schools could become a means for the virus to spread once again.

"The children, if they get sick, will pass it on to other people because as has been shown, schools are indeed a pandemic accelerator. There's no debate about that anymore.

"Early on in the pandemic, there was an assumption that kids magically did not get sick. Not true."

Brian Morris/CBC
Brian Morris/CBC

That's not lost on Sarah Jane Estabrooks, a mother of two.

"I think masks will be back on before Thanksgiving again. I would prefer they stay on," Estabrooks said

She said she plans to ask her kids, including her 11-year-son, Judah, to mask up at school.

"Masks are uncomfortable, but I think they're necessary. I don't want to get my friends sick and I don't want to get myself sick," he said.

School boards to follow provincial guidance 

Three of Ottawa's four school boards said in emailed statements they will be following provincial guidance when it comes to masking.

Ottawa's largest school board, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) said it will be encouraging masking and that rapid antigen tests and masks will still be provided by the government for those who need them.

But OCDSB trustee Lyra Evans tweeted Monday that she's calling for a meeting of the board to revisit the masking decision.

The Ottawa Catholic School Board and the Conseil des écoles publiques de l'Est de l'Ontario (CEPEO) also said they plan to respect the provincial decision. CEPEO added in its statement that students who wish to wear masks can freely do so.

The Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est did not respond to CBC by deadline.