Even though the school year remains over four weeks away, teachers are raising concerns about how mandatory masking would be enforced in Nova Scotia.
Lalia Kerr, who has been teaching elementary for 30 years, will be teaching Grade Primary and Grade 1 in September. She says telling children between the ages of four and six to wear a mask won’t go over well.
“Picture the end of the day with some cranky four-year-olds and I say put your mask on and they say no,” she said.
“What do I do? I can’t wrestle them into the mask.”
The issue has been a concern for public health officials for the past several weeks.
The Nova Scotia Department of Education released its return-to-school plan last month. Students will be told to wear a mask on the bus and in hallways, but not when sitting in the classroom. Schools are also expected to be at 100 per cent capacity on Sept. 8.
On Tuesday, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam recommended the use of masks in schools whenever possible, but stopped short of recommending they be mandatory everywhere.
For Kerr, much of the confusion is around mask-use enforcement.
“I know you can teach children pretty much everything, but there are children who take a lot longer to adjust,” said Kerr. “For those children, they’re going to hate school, and they’re going to cry.”
“There are many adults who find masks uncomfortable, there are going to be many children that find masks uncomfortable. What do we do with those children if masks are mandatory?”
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That’s a concern shared by the Nova Scotia Teachers Union President Paul Wozney, who calls the issue around masking “nuanced.” He says those who can be wearing masks should be, but notes there are exceptions to be made.
“We know that there are teachers and students who are going to need masks that are transparent, so you can see the mouth of a speaker,” said Wozney.
“That’s really important for early language acquisition. It’s important for some of our specialists who do therapeutic work.”
But Wozney feels the messaging from the province has been mixed.
“Two days after we announced how schools would open … the premier mandated that everybody in Nova Scotia has to wear masks in public spaces,” Wozney said. “We have a clash of what we say to one group of people magically doesn’t apply to another group of people.”
The Opposition agrees, calling for the province’s messaging to be more clear.
“I would ask out provincial government to put regular updates out, to keep parents apprised on changes and improvements to their plan,” said Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston.
“I think communication is key.”
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In a statement to Global News on Wednesday, the Department of Education said their stance on mandatory masking has not changed, highlighting that students and teachers can wear a mask in the classroom “if they wish.”
“Our plan is a responsive one and any of our practices can be modified in the event that the epidemiology of COVID-19 changes,” the statement reads.
“We will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation and work with Public Health to adjust as needed to keep our students safe.”
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