The spillover of lack of respect for mask exemptions is now affecting very young school-aged children. In this interview, mom of two Melissa Cippone and I discuss how, upon her children's return to in-class learning on February 8, they were denied their mask exemptions, despite having no prior issues since the fall of 2020.
Melissa has jumped through all of the hoops laid out by the school, including providing a doctor’s note. Nothing seems good enough, as evidenced by her children (aged six and seven) being shamed upon arrival at school. Melissa fears that school is starting to feel less like a safe space, and that her children will be ridiculed and segregated based on their mask exemptions. She claims that some families within the same school board are being granted exemptions because this “policy” is being left open to interpretation by the principal.
After Melissa and I spoke, I contacted the school board to inquire about their mask exception policy, and asked if there was a law or policy that allows for a principal to decide who is and who isn’t mask exempt, despite valid notes from medical professional(s).
Lonnie Bolton, the superintendent for the Simcoe-Muskoka Catholic District School Board, sent me a few links — a link to Ontario’s “COVID-19 Re-Opening Schools” page, which has a link under “Elementary Schools: Kindergarten to Grade 8” titled “increased health and safety measures.” That link leads to Ontario’s “Guide to Reopening Schools” where it clearly states: “Reasonable exceptions on the requirement to wear masks will apply” and, “Students in Kindergarten to Grade 3 will be encouraged but not required to wear masks in indoor spaces.” Further down it states, “Reasonable exceptions to the requirement to wear masks are expected to be put in place by schools and school boards. Staff or students with sensory or breathing difficulties may be exempted by the school principal, guided by school board policies.“
Bolton also sent a link to the Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit’s information page on reopening schools for “Families” and quoted where it states, “strongly encourages masking for JK/SK students who are able to tolerate it and we support school boards and child care operators who choose to mandate masking at the JK/SK level” while also completely ignoring the part that states, “reasonable exceptions on the requirement to wear masks will apply.”
On page 48 of the Simcoe-Muskoka Catholic District School Board’s School Reopening Plan, they outline mask exemptions. A few key points here:
Students may be granted an exemption from wearing a non-medical mask for reasons related to a medical condition, mental health, sensory, breathing difficulties or other reasons deemed reasonable by the principal. Principals will follow Board guidance on exemptions (protocol is provided further on in the document).
School-aged children and youth who are not able to remove their non-medical mask without assistance should not wear a non-medical mask due to safety concerns.
A non-medical mask is not a replacement for proven infection control methods such as hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, and physical distancing.
It states the same considerations for mask exemptions as previously mentioned above.
The procedure outlines that a parent is to provide medical documentation from a health professional that indicates the student has a medical condition that will not allow them to wear a mask, and that options will be discussed with the family and a written plan developed.
Superintendent Bolton referred back to the Education Act regarding policy implementation, which has key wording such as “every board shall… promote a positive school climate that is inclusive and accepting of all pupils, including pupils of any… creed… or disability” and that “legislation and regulations governing education funding operate in a fair and non-discriminatory manner.”
While researching the policies above, it appears that exemptions exist for reasons other than specific semantics related to a medical condition, and that a doctor’s note should be able to fulfill the requirements of the board’s policy.
Yet, Mrs. Cippone provided a medical note from her family physician (a licensed medical professional) that was deemed by Our Lady of Grace Catholic School principal Saundra Reynolds to "not suffice," who made the semantic argument that the words "medical condition" must be included in the note.
At that point I asked: what legislation is in place that allows for a principal, not a medical professional, to deem these policies reasonable?
Lonnie Bolton stopped responding to me, and has since followed up with Melissa stating that her SECOND doctor’s note that confirms her children’s mask exemption is due to a medical condition “is not sufficient information for the school to develop a plan of care, or determine appropriate accommodations.”
The superintendent wants the doctor to “provide some detail with respect to the condition that prevents [Melissa's] children from wearing a mask, and information that would assist us in developing a plan of care for their condition, we would be pleased to discuss how we can accommodate the restrictions related to their condition.”
How about: it’s none of your business.
Last time I checked, access to a free, public, IN PERSON education without discrimination is a basic human right. And this doesn’t sound very inclusive or accepting.
Welcome to the new normal.