by Brandom Mayer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
On February 23, Trustees for the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) passed a motion to make the use of masks for kindergarten children optional in its schools. This occurred in response to a presentation from Ontario’s Chief Medical Officers of Health, indicating that our community health profile is improving, making kindergarten masking much less of a priority. Mask requirements for students above kindergarten age remain in place in all schools.
Mandatory masking for schoolchildren has been a polarizing topic since it began in September of 2020. Some argue that it is necessary to keep children safe, and to avoid the spread of COVID-19, which can extend beyond school walls. Others have gone so far as to argue that masking is child abuse, as it is uncomfortable, can make it harder to breathe, and reduces the ability to notice and understand emotions using facial expressions.
While unconfirmed, rumours have surfaced that the Ontario government will prioritize the lifting of mask requirements in schools over removing these requirements in other settings, once mask mandates begin to be eased in the coming months. Mandatory vaccination requirements and capacity limits were lifted in Ontario on March 1, though Premier Doug Ford did not include mask mandates in the list of lifted restrictions, instead promising that a timeline for this step would be released in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, in Quebec, students in all grades will no longer have to wear masks in their classrooms beginning on March 7, though they will still be required to wear masks in common areas and on the school bus. Part of the reason given for this is the large number of people who have contracted COVID-19 in the past few months, which affords a natural immunity to the virus. Quebec Health Minister, Christian Dube, has said that lifting mask mandates for school students is the first step in eventually lifting the mandates in all settings.
As with all aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the lifting of mask mandates is not certain, because of the continually evolving situation.
The most up-to-date information for Ontario can be found at covid-19.ontario.ca.