Toronto-area teacher says he faced suspension without pay for wearing N95 mask in class

Three Toronto-area lecturers who’ve chosen to purchase and put on N95-style masks in the classroom say they have been threatened with disciplinary motion as a result of solely board-issued — however less-protective — blue surgical masks are allowed. 

One of the lecturers, who has a child at house and works at an elementary college with college students too younger to be vaccinated, stated he purchased his personal case of FN95 respirators in August to put on as an alternative of the masks given out by the York Region District School Board. 

“The blue masks they gave us, they have visible gaps at the chin and on the sides,” he stated. “So it just kind of seemed like a no-brainer, like the [mask] that’s actually going to cover your mouth and nose would be safer.”

He and two different lecturers spoke to CBC News on situation of anonymity, as they are not approved to talk about the matter and worry reprisal.

Throughout September, the teacher stated his principal and the board instructed him he may put on solely the surgical masks supplied. He initially refused, however then this month, he was knowledgeable he can be instantly suspended without pay. 

With a mortgage and household to help, the teacher stated he had no selection however to reluctantly comply with the board’s guidelines. 

“It sort of goes against ‘we’re all in this together’ and ‘your mental health is important to us,'” he stated. “If we feel safer [wearing N95 masks], then who is it hurting?” 

Board says its masks meet security necessities

The college board stated in a press release that employees should put on the private protecting tools (PPE) it provides to make sure it meets security necessities. Only particular employees members who’re educated to do medical procedures whereas supporting college students are supplied with N95 masks.

But the board didn’t deal with questions from CBC News concerning the lecturers’ issues with the surgical masks it offers. It additionally did not clarify why lecturers could possibly be suspended without pay for upgrading to N95 masks, whereas lecturers who select to not get vaccinated are allowed to proceed instructing so long as they endure fast testing twice per week.

The board’s surgical mask rule is motivated by the will to standardize and management PPE throughout faculties and boards, stated University of Toronto epidemiologist Colin Furness.

But Furness known as the masks provided to lecturers “low-quality” and “inadequate” and stated making them the most quantity of safety lecturers can put on, quite than the minimal, is “frankly witless and negligent.”

The York Region District School Board says lecturers are solely allowed to put on blue surgical masks it offers, with few exceptions. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the availability of N95 masks to Canada has steadily elevated and so they’ve turn out to be extra broadly accessible to not solely health-care employees but in addition the general public. Research suggests they’re superior when in comparison with surgical masks at filtering out droplets contaminated with the novel coronavirus.

“Teachers are under a huge amount of stress, and if they want to upgrade their PPE, they should be able to do so,” Furness stated. “It’s like regulating people’s underpants.”

He stated a extra versatile compromise can be to permit lecturers to double up, wearing each their most well-liked mask and a board-issued mask.

Another elementary college teacher in York Region who’s immunocompromised and faced related pushback when she selected to put on a N95-style mask — like a lot of her college students do — stated she supplied to put on the surgical mask on high. But she was instructed double-masking was additionally not allowed.

She ended up complying with the surgical-mask-only rule, however stated the coverage is “insulting.” 

‘I really feel invalidated’

Another York Region highschool teacher stated he additionally faced disciplinary motion when he wore a KN95 mask as further safety as a result of he cares for an immunocompromised member of the family. He stated he made the transfer as a result of he teaches 30 youngsters in a classroom at a time who might or might not be vaccinated.

He stated when he instructed his superiors about public well being steerage and scientific research concerning the effectiveness of respirators, their response was that he was doubtless studying “misinformation.”

Facing disciplinary motion, he stated he’s now wearing surgical masks in school.

“I feel invalidated, unsupported, unimportant, disrespected,” he stated. “Especially compared to how teachers who want to wear superior PPE are being treated versus voluntarily unvaccinated teachers.” 

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation stated it advocates for stronger security measures in all faculties and encourages members to contact their union consultant if they’ve issues concerning the PPE supplied.

“We applaud those school boards who are allowing staff to wear superior face masks and call on other boards to follow suit,” stated OSSTF president Karen Littlewood in a press release.

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