ontario teachers

People in Ontario outraged to learn teachers aren't allowed to wear N95 masks at work

Students are finally back in Ontario classrooms this academic year, which means a return to invaluable in-person learning after months of haphazard remote education — but also, potentially, a high risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Though mask mandates and other health and safety protocols are in full effect in schools across the province, there have already been hundreds of cases of the virus confirmed in academic settings, and five institutions are closed due to outbreaks as of Oct. 13.

While there is no vaccination requirement for eligible students 12 and over, teachers in the province must be fully vaxxed, or else take two COVID tests per week.

Some have also decided to further protect themselves and those around them in other ways, such as sporting high-quality medical-grade face masks, such as N95s, rather than the typical fabric or disposable surgical masks while on the job.

But, in at least one Ontario region, this practice has somehow been prohibited.

Multiple teachers from York Region District School Board (YRDSB) came forward to the CBC this week to share how they were threatened by their superiors with disciplinary action — up to and including unpaid suspension — for wearing N95-style masks in class.

One educator told the news outlet that he thought his decision to opt for a better, tigher-fitting mask was "a no-brainer," and was shocked when his principal and the board informed him that he was only permitted to wear a flimsier disposable mask provided by the school.

He was also told that he would be suspended without pay if he failed to comply with the nonsensical rule.

Understandably, people have been quite shocked at the revelation, unsure of why the board would object to the use of safer PPE.

As the board told CBC, it issues standard personal protective equipment (PPE) to its staff in order to maintain consistency and ensure all masks meet safety requirements.

But, it gave no logical reason why it would punish any who chose to go above and beyond with a mask proven to be more effective, though most often reserved for frontline healthcare workers.

"The occupational health and safety policies of school boards and organizations fall within their mandate and responsibilities," Dr. Richard Gould, the acting medical officer of health for York Region told blogTO on the subject.

"The direction related to the use of PPE comes from the school board's occupational health and safety team, and these decisions are based on their review of the best available guidance and evidence."

Dr. Gould also stated that the reason the board has its own set of policies and provides its own PPE is indeed to ensure that all masks adhere to a standard without having to check each individual staffer's equipment.

The region and Public Health Ontario recommend the use of one standard medical mask and eye protection for educators amid the health crisis.

In the wake of the news, other school boards in Ontario have stepped up to say that they support the use of any face mask that a teacher feels most comfortable in, so long as it meets the generally-accepted criteria for proper size, fit and fabric type.

Trustees at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board approved a motion on Tuesday to let teachers to wear their own higher-quality masks if they so choose.

YRDSB did not respond to blogTO's request for comment by the time of publication.

Lead photo by

Jonathan J. Castellon

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