Editorial: Students mask up

By Jenn Watt

At least one trustee for Trillium Lakelands District School Board has said he supports the board dipping further into its reserve funding to supply masks for all students who need them when in-school instruction resumes this month.

The board was already given the go-ahead from the province to access two per cent of its reserves, or about $4 million, for additional health and safety measures including reducing class sizes. Since then, the board of trustees decided to widen the age range of students required to don a mask, expanding from the previous Grade 4 students and older to now include all students attending a TLDSB school.
That’s a welcome decision; as the back-to-school dates approach, anxiety is growing about how the integration of students will go. All the families who have been “bubbling” in groups of no more than 10 are now facing the prospect of their children mixing with more than two dozen other kids outside of their bubbles each day. Buses, which will be organized by school and cohort as much as possible, won’t be able to maintain physical distancing standards in many cases. 

And although children don’t tend to get as sick from the novel coronavirus, they certainly can contract it and spread it – and it doesn’t matter whether they’re in Grade 4 or not. 

Trustees have rightly voiced their concerns about what back-to-school will look like over the course of several meetings, raising issue with the top-down approach employed by the provincial government and the class sizes that seem far too large to observe the two-metre distancing health experts say is crucial to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread.

Mandatory mask wearing isn’t a perfect solution, but it certainly will improve safety for kids and staff, and subsequently their families and the wider community. 

A recent study done by researchers at Duke University found that homemade masks can be very effective in stopping droplets from escaping when one is speaking. They found a polypropylene/cotton mask released five per cent of droplets and pleated cotton masks released less than 20 per cent of droplets. 

Knowing how important masks are to controlling the spread of the virus, it follows that the school board would ensure each child has one, securing a supply for teachers and bus drivers to hand out to kids who lose theirs, forget them, or get them wet or dirty.

Trustee Gary Brohman of Haliburton, a former principal at Hal High, pointed out how likely it would be that the younger kids would find themselves maskless. And if they can’t afford to, parents shouldn’t have to foot the bill for extra masks, he said.

Trustee John Byrne similarly argued in favour of supplying masks: “If I can keep COVID out of the school, I’m saving a lot more money than closing down classrooms, sending kids home, whatever, because one individual had a positive COVID test.”

Time is of the essence, and though there’s a dizzying number of concerns for administrators to address in the next week, funding a supply of masks for all students should be at the top of the list.