Can We Please Give the Kids a Break?

I walked by the Mount Edward School in Dartmouth the other day with my two boys. School was out, but there was a small cohort of about 10 children around the same age as mine (3 and 5), accompanied by two teachers, playing outside in the snow on a ball field. All of the children were wearing masks.

Why?

We homeschool our children, and we are part of a rapidly growing community of like-minded parents who feel completely let down by the public school system, especially during these last two years. Every week it seems like more and more parents are pulling their children from school because of the rules in place. I’ve asked those parents who have recently pulled their children out of school, or those who are thinking about doing so, what the school experience is like for their kids. 

It may be different at each school, with each implementing the requirements in their own way, but the stories I hear are shocking. Some children aren’t allowed to remove their masks in class for anything, not even to drink, and if they are thirsty they are to remove themselves to the hallway to quietly sip some water. They aren’t allowed to speak to each other, or turn around in their seats. They have to keep their masks on between bites at lunch time, and some even when playing outside like the kids I saw yesterday.

Why?

At the beginning of 2022, the province updated its masking requirements to a 3-ply mask for use indoors, and the provincial website shows they are not required when outdoors. School assemblies have all been suspended, and they are not permitted to sing or play wind instruments during music class. Mask breaks are to be kept to a minimum, and “should be avoided [in the classroom] if possible and the unmasked person should not be vocalizing”.

More importantly, though, why are the rules different (or rather, more stringent) for children at school, than the rules for adults and everyday public life? 

3-ply masks are not required in any other indoor space – it is a requirement to wear a non-medical mask in most indoor places. So any old face covering will do in public, but children must wear 3-ply masks in schools? Masks can also be removed when sitting in a restaurant waiting for food, so the adults can chat and drink and feel a little ‘normal’, but children can only remove theirs when actively eating or drinking?

Perhaps most concerning is the notion that “schools should foster an environment where mask-wearing is accepted and normalized for those who choose to wear masks in situations where it is not required.” Why? Why are we encouraging our children to wear masks in any and all situations? And a child would surely only choose to wear a mask when it is not required because they’ve been told for the last two years that someone will die if they take it off.

And yet, two years’ worth of data and countless studies have shown that children are the lowest risk group to COVID-19 infection and symptomatic disease. By far. Since the start of the pandemic (and at the time of writing this) 24 children have died from COVID-19 in Canada. Read that again. The danger and severity of COVID-19 is quite obviously scalable with age, to the point of even a threefold difference in deaths between those aged 70-79 and those aged 80 or older.

When children contract COVID-19 their symptoms are overwhelmingly mild, usually presenting as the common cold with the occasional fever. They rarely even spread the virus to their peers or adults around them, as is made clear by the lack of transmission within our public schools even when someone there is infected.

Most recently, though further afield, Dr. Kieran Moore, Chief Medical Officer of Health for Ontario, recently announced that even after mask mandates have been lifted at a societal level (though a timeline for that wasn’t given) they will likely remain in place a bit longer in schools, citing parents’, teachers’, and students’ feelings of safety and a desire to avoid absenteeism in schools as the rationale for doing so. In Ontario then, children might continue to suffer needlessly even after the rest of society can (hypothetically) go about their daily lives as normal.

So, again, why? Why are the rules harsher for children than they are for those who are genuinely at risk of severe illness and death? Why are we encouraging them to impose the rules on themselves even when they don’t have to? Why are we still subjecting our children to these kinds of measures when the benefit for them is unclear, and the harms are calculable?

One of the stories a mother told me recently was of a small birthday party she had for her children last summer. They invited some of their friends from school to celebrate with them. It was the first time these kids had seen each other without masks on, and they didn’t recognise each other. It breaks my heart to know what our society is doing to its children. They are the least at risk from COVID-19, yet they are bearing the heaviest burdens of us all. Can we please give them a break now?

– Aldous M. Cluverius

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