Teachers warn against removing masks in classrooms “too soon”

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Ontario teachers are warning that the province’s decision to lift most mask mandates as of March 21, as students return from March Break, is politically motivated and risks throwing schools into further chaos.

In a statement Wednesday, after chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore announced that masks will no longer be required in most settings as of Monday, March 21, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) said that over the past two years, “the Ford government repeatedly made ineffective decisions that unnecessarily prolonged the pandemic, and jeopardized the health and safety of students and education workers.”

“Lifting the mask mandate too soon may result in further disruption to in-person learning and negative impacts on the health and safety of ETFO members, students, and their families,” said ETFO president Karen Brown.

“Ontarians deserve stability and safety, not more chaos.”

Brown noted that the Ontario’s Children’s Health Coalition recently issued a statement calling for masking to be maintained in indoor school settings to protect children and their families.

President and chief executive officer of Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children Ronald Cohn has said the province should revisit the use of masks in schools about two weeks after students return from March Break.

“Premier Ford and Minister Lecce have consistently said they will follow the advice of the medical community. It’s clear they only mean they follow those who are aligned with their political agenda and who will help them get re-elected,” Brown said.

“Throughout the pandemic, the provincial government repeatedly failed to make necessary investments to keep schools open to in-person learning, and to ensure the health and safety of students and ETFO members. They simply cannot be trusted to do the right thing.”

Ill-timed

The Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) agreed, saying the government’s decision to drop school masking requirements after March Break is “ill-timed, and seemingly motivated by politics rather than science.”

“Schools are the largest daily gathering in Ontario, with more than two million students, educators, and staff congregating in buildings – many with more than 30 students in a classroom – for seven hours a day,” said OECTA president Barb Dobrowolski.

“For safe, open schools, we must proceed cautiously.”

Dobrowolski said the decision to drop the mask requirement directly after March Break is “especially problematic, given that this is typically a period of travel and associated in the past with increased transmission – including after Premier Ford encouraged families to ‘have fun’ and ‘go away’ for March Break two years ago.”

“We all want students in school, safely enjoying the benefits of in-person learning,” she added.

“Considering the lack of physical distancing in classrooms and congregated spaces, the absence of quality ventilation in many schools, and lower vaccination rates among young children, removing masking, at this time, may jeopardize the progress that has been made in keeping schools open.

“This important public health decision cannot be rushed.”

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