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Why is York Region teachers preferring N95 masks over surgical ones an issue?

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Three York Region district school board teachers who have anonymously reported threats of disciplinary action for wearing N95 masks instead of the board-provided surgical masks have the backing of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.

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“We applaud those school boards who are allowing staff to wear superior face masks and call on other boards to follow suit,” OSSTF president Karen Littlewood wrote in part in an emailed statement Thursday.

“If a member has concerns with the PPE provided by their employer, they are encouraged to contact their union representative for assistance.”

Meanwhile, Miguelo Licinio, a spokesman for the school board, wrote in an emailed statement Thursday that he couldn’t “speak to individual cases, however for their health and safety and that of other staff and students all staff members are expected to wear the provided personal protective equipment as required by regulating authorities (in our case, the provincial government). The board may employ progressive steps to ensure compliance with this and other provincial requirements to ensure the safety of everyone in our schools and classrooms.”

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The teachers, who said they all paid for their N95 masks out of their own pockets, told CP24 that one was called into a meeting by an administrator with their union rep while another was threatened with a day’s suspension without pay.

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All of them offered to put a board-supplied surgical mask over their N95 mask as a compromise but were told not to.

Education Ministry spokesman Caitlin Clark wrote in part in an emailed statement on Thursday that: “Ontario has implemented some of the most comprehensive masking policies for students and staff in the country. Local public health units have the authority to implement additional masking measures if local indicators require it.”

When asked if Minister of Education Stephen Lecce might allow teachers to wear N95 masks over the board-provided surgical ones, there was no response by press time.

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Toronto District School Board spokesman Ryan Bird said he was unaware of any TDSB employees having been disciplined for wearing an N95 mask but the board does “ask staff to wear the medical masks provided to school boards by the government of Ontario.”

“With regard to N95 masks, they require training and proper fitting,” he said. “Without this, it’s my understanding that they offer no greater protection than that of the already-provided medical masks which are recommended by the Ministry of Education and Toronto Public Health.”

According to a tweet from trustee Norm Di Pasquale, a motion was passed on Thursday night allowing staff with the Toronto Catholic District School Board to be able to wear an N95 mask — with a medical mask on top — effective immediately.

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