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LETTER: Local teacher 'overjoyed' about new relaxed mask rules

'In-person learning should not continue to be compromised now that COVID is considered to be an endemic infection by many,' says Coldwater educator
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MidlandToday welcomes letters to the editor ([email protected]). This letter, from a local occasional teacher who works in elementary schools, is about the province's decision to lift the mask mandate at schools as of March 21.

I am an elementary school occasional teacher in Simcoe County. Over the course of the past two years, I have taught in over 50 classrooms across 15 different elementary schools in Simcoe County.

I am overjoyed to hear the announcement that masking in schools will no longer be mandatory as of March 21! My first-hand experience in the classroom allows me to speak to the ineffectiveness of masking children in schools. 

COVID protocol varies from school to school in the region from very strict, (closed/locked door policy for office and gymnasiums, outdoor mask wearing, mandatory hand sanitizing before entering a classroom and students adhering to scheduled bathroom breaks according to class cohorts) to more relaxed (open door policy throughout the school, unmasked outdoors, an empty bottle of hand sanitizer in the classroom and students using the bathroom as needed any time throughout the day).

To my knowledge, schools that are less stringent with health measures are not experiencing a greater number of incidents of infection or transmission.

There is also considerable variance with student mask wearing. The majority of students need multiple reminders throughout the day, every day, to put their mask back on or pull the mask up over their nose.

Many students do not wear masks outdoors at recess and are routinely in close proximity to one another, often hugging and 'rough housing'. They are sitting next to one another at lunch with masks off for two twenty minute nutrition breaks each day and the possibility of transmission of the virus is the same during those time periods.

Most students also wear homemade cloth masks which do not fit snug to their face and do not prevent aerosols from escaping out the sides. 

It is not normal to place a mask over a child's face. As a teacher, I have great difficulty hearing student responses and contributions to discussions which limits effective communication of their prior knowledge and understanding and inhibits meaningful learning opportunities. Many students are already reluctant to speak out in class and if they are asked to repeat their response once or twice, they often say, "forget it" or "nothing".

I also have limited indications of a student's mood, countenance when their expressions are hidden behind a mask. When they do take the mask off at lunch or outside for recess, I often do not recognize them as the same student because I rarely see their entire face. Students who wear toques and caps are even more disguised. Student's masks are continually absorbing moisture and causing rashes or increased acne for older kids.

Among the very few cases of infection in Simcoe County schools, there have been no serious outcomes reported for children. Therefore, it is fair to say, the adverse effects of masking children in school far outweigh the benefits. Due to the numerous aforementioned inconsistencies, masks do not effectively reduce the transmission of the virus in schools.

If a child is immunocompromised, they most certainly have the option of continuing to wear a masks, as do teachers and support staff. If a family believes the risk of COVID infection/transmission is greater for that child in a school setting and fear subsequent serous, negative health outcomes, they have the option of remote learning, which has been extended and will continue to be offered in the 2022/2023 school year.

In-person learning should not continue to be compromised now that COVID is considered to be an endemic infection by many provinces in Canada and countries around the world.

Kelly Ledebrink