School board staffer fights for face mask exemption


A staff member of the Near North District School Board remains off the job, she says, because she has been denied a face mask exemption.
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A staff member of the Near North District School Board remains off the job, she says, because she cannot wear a face mask.

The woman, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal, says she cannot wear a mask due to a joint and nerve condition.

She claims she provided a face mask exemption note from her doctor and also offered to wear a face shield. But the school board denied her a mask exemption.

“I truly don’t understand why they’re giving me a hard time,” she says. “I feel completely pushed aside. I don’t feel I have any support.

“I have to book off sick because I can’t wear a mask. But what’s going to happen when I return and there’s still the issue of the mask?”

After several emails to the school board’s health and safety department and her union, the Near North employee says she doesn’t understand why the board isn’t giving her an exemption when the province allows for it.

“My requests to the Near North District School Board for their mask policies went unanswered,” she claims. “Mask exemptions should be taken on faith and no note should be required.”

The board employee says she called Ontario Public Health and the Ministry of Education, which indicated that it’s up to individual school boards and principals to make decisions about mask exemptions.

Calls from The Nugget to the Near North board were not returned.

Ingrid Anderson, senior communications officer with the Education Ministry, said all school-based staff are required to wear masks, with exceptions made for medical conditions.

“Reasonable exceptions to the requirement to wear masks are expected to be put in place by schools and school boards,” Anderson says. “Accommodation requests should be reviewed by school boards, as employers, on a case-by-case basis in accordance with existing school board accommodation policies and the Human Rights Code.”

The North Bay Parry Sound District Health unit also permits “reasonable exemptions.

“Medical masks and eye protection (i.e. face shield) will be provided for all teachers and other staff of school boards. All school-based staff will be required to wear masks with reasonable exceptions for medical conditions,” the health unit’s website states. “Reasonable exceptions to the requirement to wear masks are expected to be put in place by schools and school boards.”

The Toronto District School Board, meanwhile, says it “needs to be respectful and understanding of students and staff who cannot wear a mask for medical or other exemptions.”

On its website, the board outlines several reasons for an exemption, such as a mental health condition, a cognitive condition or disability, a medical condition that makes it difficult to breathe, “as well as for people who are deaf or hard of hearing or are communicating with a person who is hearing impaired and where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication.

“In situations where a student, staff or visitor is not wearing a mask due to an approved exemption, a face shield may be required as an alternative measure of protection,” it states.



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