Quebec to lift mask mandate in classrooms as of March 7; teachers say they feel disrespected
Students will no longer be required to wear a face mask while sitting in class as of March 7, Quebec’s Ministry of Education announced Tuesday.
The ministry said the measure can be removed due to “the favourable evolution of the epidemiological situation in Quebec.”
Masks will still need to be worn in common areas, such as hallways, and on school buses.
Pre-school students will also only be required to wear the face mask during transportation to and from school.
Quebec's teachers, though, say they were not consulted prior to Tuesday on whether students should continue to wear masks while in class to protect against COVID-19.
"This is something that we've had trouble with from the very start of the pandemic," said Heidi Yetman, president of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers.
"The health authority does not know what it's like to be a teacher inside a classroom... The health authority has never stepped inside a Grade 1 classroom."
Whenever there are government announcements related to education, Yetman noted, "We get called into a meeting 15 minutes prior to be told what's going to be announced."
She said she was called in to attand a briefing at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday with the education ministry.
"One of the things that teachers always ask is, 'Why are the rules inside schools and classrooms so different than the rules for the general population?'" Yetman asked. "This disconnect between what's happening in the classrooms and what's happening in the public has been really difficult for teachers."
Masks are a divisive topic, Yetman lamented, especially since ventilation continues to be a significant issue in schools.
"We have a lot of teachers that are frankly quite fed up and would like to see the mask removed but we also have another bunch of teachers that are very concerned, very worried they don't have good ventilation," she said.
"They're worried that taking off the masks will just spread the virus more quickly."
This "disrespect," according to Yetman, will have continued ramifications for years to come.
"We have many, many teachers who are taking early retirements," she said, adding that there is already a devastating teacher shortage in Quebec.
"We have many, many teachers who are asking themselves, 'Do I want to stay in this profession?'" she said. "They are working so hard, they're exhausted... I'm very, very concerned for the future of this profession."
In a statement on Tuesday, Education Minister Jean-François Roberge commended the "resilience" of students who have helped limit the spread of the coronavirus in schools.
"School personnel have had to be creative, make adjustments and support our students and their parents in an incredible way," he said.
"Removing the mask from the classroom is one more step to regain the pleasure of being at school, to regain the pleasure of teaching."