High school students in Toronto walked out to protest against the provincial government’s decision to end mandatory masking in most public spaces including in schools.
Mask mandates were lifted across Ontario Monday, along with the requirement for cohorting in schools. Masks are still required in some areas, including on public transit and in long-term care facilities.
Students from 11 separate Toronto high schools took part in the protest, according to Ontario Students For COVID Safety, a network of high schoolers.
“Schools are a crowded space, schools are a vulnerable space, they’re an essential service,” Sophia Alexanian, one of the group’s founders, said. “It’s important for everyone to still wear their masks”
The decision to lift the mask mandate in schools was made by Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore.
He said the move would “align measures in schools” with the general community.
The Children’s Health Coalition, a collective of children’s health organizations in Ontario including the Hospital for Sick Children, said it would have preferred to have waited until two weeks after March break.
“We’re not quite there yet, and we ask everyone to continue to be thoughtful of those around them and their needs and choices when it comes to masking,” the statement read.
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The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) initially asked the province to delay plans to lift the mask mandate in classrooms. The board noted concern about low vaccination rates for children five to 11-years-old.
The province did not grant the request.
TDSB said in a March 17 press release that it would continue to encourage students and staff to wear masks.
“TDSB schools will continue to be mask-friendly environments,” the release reads.
Ontario Students For COVID Safety has asked for mask mandates to be extended in schools. It also requested access to PCR testing for students and staff.
“I kind of feel unsafe if people don’t wear masks,” Jason Duong, a grade 10 student, told Global News.
— With files from Global News’ Caryn Lieberman