Michael Zwaagstra: Schools Should Have No Public Health Restrictions This Fall

July 13, 2022 Updated: July 13, 2022

Commentary

Students will be heading back to school soon. If all goes well, this could be the first normal school year in more than two years and a normal education is something every student deserves.

Unfortunately, there are worrying signs that school might not be totally normal this fall. Many people who are still living in fear of COVID-19 are demanding that provinces bring back public health restrictions.

Some postsecondary institutions, such as the University of Manitoba, have already caved into pressure to keep a mask mandate in place this fall. Even though Manitobans have long been attending huge sports events, hanging out in lounges, and visiting other indoor venues without a mask, university students will still have to wear a mask while on campus.

Considering that teachers’ unions across Canada were some of the loudest proponents of mask mandates in schools, there’s reason to believe that they will push for them again this fall. Union leaders tend to be some of the most vocal people on social media raising concerns about future waves of COVID-19.

However, consider the implications of giving in to their demands.

Public health restrictions, including mask mandates, were initially introduced to prevent our hospitals from becoming completely overwhelmed. No vaccines were available at the time and almost no one had any natural immunity. In other words, there appeared to be real potential of COVID-19 overwhelming our healthcare system.

More than two years later, the situation has completely changed.

Vaccines have long been available to anyone who wants them and even children are eligible to get vaccinated if that’s what their parents choose. Most Canadians have already been infected by COVID-19 and have at least some natural immunity to the virus. In addition, while the latest COVID-19 variants are highly infectious, lower hospitalization rates indicate that they are less severe.

Thus, there is no need to enact public health restrictions in schools, particularly since children continue to be the demographic least impacted by this virus. As for the adults in the building, they are welcome to continue wearing a mask and/or get as many vaccine doses as they feel are necessary to protect themselves. We cannot allow the education of children to be held hostage by the irrational fears of some adults.

Proponents of mask mandates say that masks are a nonintrusive public health measure and are an effective way of keeping vulnerable people safe. However, there is nothing nonintrusive about being forced to wear a face covering for years on end. If children are going to be forced to wear masks at a time when hospitals are not overwhelmed, natural immunity to the virus is high, and vaccines are widely available, then mask mandates will never end.

In addition, wearing a mask all day is harmful to the development of young children. Being able to see each other’s faces is an important part of learning how to communicate with each other. For students who are hard of hearing, reading lips is vital. Imagine how difficult the last two years have been for deaf students who must somehow get along without being able to fully communicate with other people.

Finally, mask mandates are divisive. Forcing all students and teachers to wear masks again will simply divide communities and drive families out of the public school system. If parents feel that there is no end in sight to the mask mandates, they will opt for homeschooling or some other educational alternative. This would be devastating to the future of public education in Canada.

The reality is that COVID-19 is going to be with us for a long time. China’s harsh lockdowns in cities such as Shanghai showed the world the folly of zero-COVID policies. There is simply no way to eradicate a virus that spreads so easily among the population. People are meant to live in community, and this means they will come into contact with each other.

Students learn best when they are in a natural learning environment. When students return to school this fall, let’s hope they can have a normal school year. Anyone who wants to wear a mask can continue to do so. The rest of us, however, are ready to return to normal life.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher, a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, and author of “A Sage on the Stage: Common Sense Reflections on Teaching and Learning.”