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LETTER: Child, youth worker has concerns about school mask policy

'The concern: Our kids are coming to school with the same mask unwashed,' says public school board worker
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MidlandToday welcomes letters to the editor. This letter is from area child and youth worker Kaila Welsh regarding mask-wearing in schools. Send your letter to andrew@midlandtoday.ca

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I am a child and youth worker for the Simcoe County District School Board (SCDSB) at two Orillia schools. I have some concerns with the lack of equity and safety around mask-wearing in our school community.

Every day children/students in K-12 are required to wear a mask to school. Some schools prefer that students are coming with their own cloth mask.

I am a mom of three. Two of my children attend schools in SCDSB and wear one cloth mask to school, and have three extra in their bag for the day. Most days when they come home I am washing eight masks. I am very fortunate to have money for cloth masks and access to laundry. 

The concern: Kids are coming to school with the same mask unwashed. It is not safe, it is not fair. And I know this is not just happening here. We need community support. 

People are communicating that the school should be providing masks. Yes, we have disposable masks to provide to our students and black cloth masks. 

The bigger picture: Asking for a mask every day can be exhausting, worrisome and embarrassing. Who wants to be the student asking for a classroom/office mask?

Don't get me wrong, some students are unfazed; however, for some students this can set their day up for failure.

What about sensory needs? How many parents out there struggle with getting their kids to wear certain pants, shirts, coats, hats or shoes? It's the same with masks. 

On top of that, let's say the students take the black cloth mask. What if it gets wet at recess (X2)? Now they are obligated to either wear the wet mask or ask for another one. Are there enough to be giving each student multiple masks a day? Again, this is anxiety-provoking.

Also, can I add that an Educational Assistant that I work with takes extra disposable masks outside to hand out on the yard before the bell rings in case there are students (and there are) who do not have a mask to even have the privilege to be on their own school property.

Imagine being a student who does not have access to a clean mask in the morning hoping that "that EA" is on the yard that morning. THERE ARE SO MANY BARRIERS. 

The even bigger picture: Many of our families do not have access to laundry and have more than one child living in the home. These kiddos are coming to school with the same unwashed mask. IT IS NOT SAFE FOR ANYONE.

I thought about creating a "How to" video on how to wash your mask at home in the sink but worry that I am not giving the correct advice. I have contacted the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit to see what the guidelines and expectations are and I am waiting to hear back. We have laundry here at school, but is this a biohazard? I have so many questions. 

Lastly, where is the equity? Let's be real, our students care about what they wear. It can be an immediate "target" when you're wearing the same mask every day or one from the school.

We really are trying to do the right thing, I mean everyone is required to wear a mask and we are "providing them"... but are we being fair? Is it a no shame system? Do we have empathy for the kiddos who want so badly to have picked their own patterned colourful mask that represents their uniqueness?

It makes my heart sad. Many of our schools have spaces with extra coats (different sizes, colours), shoes, backpacks ect. Where is the abundance of extra masks, that our students can access shame-free and have access to wash?

Kaila Welsh,
Child and Youth Worker
Regent Park Public School/Lions Oval Public School in Orillia

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