Ontario teachers see more students drop masks in second week without mandate

As Ontario school boards are forced to drop their mask mandates while signs of increased COVID-19 transmission rise across the province, some educators feel that the only option left is to “ride this wave.”

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) told CTV News Toronto they are not currently considering reviving their prior mask mandate, even as Ontario’s wastewater data shows a sustained increase of viral transmission and hospitalizations due to COVID-19 rose to 790 patients on Tuesday.

“We take our lead from the Ministry of Education and Toronto Public Health. Obviously, if things change down the road, we would follow any renewed guidance from them. But at this point in time, there is no consideration to changing those,” TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird said.

“It’s been made clear from the province that all school boards are to follow Ministry of Education and public health guidance,” he said.

Prior to the lifting of masks at schools, the TDSB wrote a letter that was rejected by the province requesting an extension of the mask mandate after March Break.

When Kristoffer Pedlar returned to teaching Toronto students from kindergarten to Grade 6 dance and drama after the break, he was nervous. But when he arrived, the scene looked remarkably similar to the one he had left.

“At our particular school, almost 100 per cent of kids are wearing masks,” Pedlar said. “But, the fact that kids can take off their masks whenever they need to, it does create a little bit of anxiety and fear about what could happen.”

As the first week without the mandate progressed, some students did decide to remove their masks, Pedlar said, an anecdote which Robin Malandrino, who teaches high school students in Barrie, echoed.

Robin Malandrino, a teacher in Barrie, is photographed with her son wearing a mask (Supplied). While she estimates about 70 per cent of students at her school wore masks on the first Monday back after March Break, now, about 30 per cent have kept their masks on.

Anecdotally, the TDSB confirms the mandate has received a “mixture” of responses, with some people choosing to wear masks, and others deciding to drop their face coverings.

Karen Littlewood, the CEO and President of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, said less than 50 per cent of students are still wearing masks, based on anecdotal observations from some of the organization’s 60,000 members. As a result, she said some parents are keeping their kids at home for the next month.

“What we have heard is that while students have every intention to come to school and to wear the mask, when they see other students not wearing the mask, they are quick to lose them,” Littlewood said.

“I think we are running the risk of numbers increasing and the data that we are hearing is reflecting that,” Littlewood said. “I feel like it’s the beginning of January again.”

In Malandrino’s eyes, there is a sense of “waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

“With the lifted mask mandate we are going to see the transmission rates rise and we are all going to have to ride that wave,” Malandrino said.

“As we go deeper into spring, I am hopeful that we will be able to ride this wave without drowning.” 

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