Children returned from March Break across New Brunswick on Monday just as the provincial government lifted all remaining COVID-19 restrictions.
An online petition is calling for the province to maintain universal indoor masking in schools until at least the end of April.
“Removing universal masking protection in schools will negatively impact any member of the school community who is at risk, which is counter to the principles of inclusion in New Brunswick schools,” the petition states.
“It puts families in the position of needing to remove children from school to protect their vulnerable family members.”
The petition had garnered more than 1,300 virtual signatures by Thursday.
For more on this story, CHMA spoke to Kathleen Gadd, one of the authors of the petition. She’s a Mount Allison University graduate, and a mother of three young children living in Miramichi.
“The school day represents a long exposure, if you happen to have somebody in the class who is contagious with COVID during the school day,” she said. “So the school, I think, is an important setting.”
CHMA reached out to local parents via social media, and they expressed conflicting views on the topic via Facebook.
“I worry that cases in schools are not being reported, and I also worry about the amount of kids who will be sent to school sick, because a parent cannot afford to take time off work,” said Danielle Pellerin, who has children in Grade 1 and Grade 5.
Pellerin also expressed concern about issues including a surge in cases putting additional pressure on the overburdened healthcare system.
Other parents said they believe masking should be a personal choice.
“As a parent, I am fine with no masking,” said Laurie Brewer Smith, whose youngest child, a Grade 7 student, is “very happy to not have to wear a mask anymore.”
She also has a child in Grade 9 who “was not interested in wearing her mask but felt pressure to do so by those who are in favour of masking and are not respectful of those who are not.”
CHMA also reached out to the principals of local schools. Ada Phinney, principal of Salem Elementary, directed questions to Stephanie Patterson, a spokesperson for the Anglophone East School District.
“We continue to follow direction from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and Public Health regarding all COVID-19 measures in schools,” Patterson said in an email.
“We have heard from parents at all stages of the pandemic regarding mandates and the lifting of mandates. Contacting the Province continues to be the best source for expressing concerns.”
In an email, Flavio Nienow, a spokesperson for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, said the department is aware of the petition.
He said the department “supports individuals who wish to continue wearing a mask based on their own risk assessment and comfort level, and we will work with school districts to ensure that a supportive environment is maintained for everyone.”
As for Gadd, the petition’s co-author, she said her kids don’t mind wearing masks. She also warned of issues including a wave of infections affecting the families of teachers.
“The teachers and school staff could have vulnerable family members at home, whether that’s young kids, or it’s other people who are at higher risk of severe COVID,” she said.
This news story was first published by CHMA on March 17, 2022.