Sask. education minister defends lack of school mask mandate, despite medical concerns

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Minister of Education Dustin Duncan says the provincial government is leaving the decision on mask wearing in classes to school divisions. (CBC - image credit)
Minister of Education Dustin Duncan says the provincial government is leaving the decision on mask wearing in classes to school divisions. (CBC - image credit)

Saskatchwean Minister of Education Dustin Duncan says the provincial government will continue to leave the decision on whether to mandate masks to individual school divisions.

On Monday, Duncan spoke with CBC Radio's The Morning Edition about the province's plans for masks in schools as the date for the return to class draws closer.

While the province is recommending that children under 12, unvaccinated staff and people in common spaces like school buses wear masks, it is stopping short of a mask mandate.

Duncan said school divisions will have to take each situation into account, especially when there are only a few students in a class.

"There may be circumstances where it could be appropriate where students wouldn't have to wear masks in all situations," said Duncan.

"There may be situations where it could be appropriate for students, for example, to be able to take their masks off while they're sitting at their desks."

LISTEN | Minister of Education Dustin Duncan spoke with Stefani Langenegger on the Morning Edition

In a back-to-school planning document written by Saskatchewan's medical health officers and sent to provincial school divisions on Aug. 13, public health strongly recommended mask use for staff, students and visitors.

"For indoor events such as gym classes, choir and band practice, we suggest that where possible and practical, mask use be promoted," the document said.

"Regardless of immunization status, all persons are encouraged to wear masks as the possibility of disease acquisition and transmission remains."

Duncan called the planning guide a 'technical draft document' and said it was meant to propose recommendations, which could then be tailored to the local level by school divisions.

Last week, the head of the Saskatchewan Medical Association said he was 'very nervous' about the province's approach, especially considering the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the province.

Duncan said rules should ultimately be dictated based on local circumstances.

"As an example, 10 per cent of our our classes last year had less than 10 students," said Duncan.

"Where students can maintain social distance, then it could be appropriate for students in those situations to take their masks off. That's not going to be the case in all situations."

While not all school divisions have released their rules for the new school year, different divisions have taken very different approaches.

For example, both school divisions in Moose Jaw have announced most COVID-19 restrictions will no longer be in place, including mandatory masking. On the other hand, Regina Public Schools announced on Monday that masks must be worn by children and staff in elementary schools as well as visitors to the school, and strongly recommends high school students mask as well.

Minister Duncan said he's confident school divisions will act appropriately.

"I'm looking forward to my son going back to school," he said.

"We will follow the rules that are that are going to be put in place by our school and by our school division, because I know that they will be working with their local medical health officer to make that decision."

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