Amber Simonson is not against children wearing masks to school this fall, but does believe a better alternative can be pursued instead.

Recently, Simonson – a Meadow Lake resident and mother whose daughter is entering Grade 4 at Lakeview Elementary – rallied other parents in an effort to convince the Northwest School Division to reconsider the need for students to wear masks while working at their desks.

“Parents were originally told by the government and the chief medical health officer students from Grades 4-12 would only need to wear masks in common areas and on buses,” Simonson explained. “I was OK with that because I figured our kids could just bring masks for those periods of time… More recently I received another e-mail from the division saying our Grade 4 classes will be wearing masks all day because the classrooms are too small and they can’t social distance properly.”

According to Simonson this does not apply to Lakeview exclusively, but to all schools throughout the division, meaning children will be required to wear masks for about five hours a day excluding breaks.

“There is no common sense in that,” she added. “My girl will bring a mask, of course, but there are healthier alternatives we can put into place that are approved by the CDC and Health Canada such as a desk shield. Every business in town is using shields yet our kids aren’t given that right, why?”

Simonson went on to say many parents are in favour of fundraising to help cover the costs associated with desk shields. She was also scheduled to meet with a superintendant from the NWSD Wednesday (Sept. 2) to share her concerns as well as her idea for a solution.

“I was a high school teacher at Carpenter before I had my kids and I know for a fact the last thing you want to do is spend all day on classroom management issues – ‘Johnny, Johnny, put on your mask’,” Simonson continued. “I’m trying to create an alternative. As parents, we are willing to find the funding, the donations to pay for these alternatives, so why are we getting shut down so quickly? We need to be a voice for our kids because they’re not going to stand up for themselves.”

According to NWSD officials, masks will be required in all schools where two-metre physical distancing is not possible. This confirms they will be required in classroom settings where students will not be able to be distanced that far apart.

“We’ve heard some comments about masks from both sides, but – much like all school divisions throughout the province – we will be starting the new school year at Level 2 of the Safe Schools Plan, which means masks will be a requirement,” remarked NWSD director of education Duane Hauk. “That was the original message and that message has not changed.”

Once the school year begins and students are in the buildings, however, Hauk did say individual school plans could be tweaked depending on the situation.

“Sometimes something looks good on paper but doesn’t work as well in practice,” he said.

Hauk also said he is open to any ideas parents have when it comes to making things work more efficiently.

“However, I am not a health expert and my job is to follow the advice of the chief medical health officer, and that is what we are doing,” he said.

Meanwhile, Simonson reiterated she is not against masks, only how often they are being used, adding there is a need to introduce something different for classrooms.

“I just want a safer alternative,” she said “They can wear masks when they leave their desks, but while at their desk they should have a right to have a break.”

by Phil Ambroziak