Laval Senior Academy students ditch the masks for COVID-19 protest

More N95 masks and rapid testing to be available, says board chair Paolo Galati

In spite of directives from the provincial government and the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board calling on students to wear face masks in order to minimize COVID-19 transmission, as many as 200 students at Laval Senior Academy staged a protest against the rule one afternoon last week by going maskless.

According to an estimate by the SWLSB, at least 50 students at the high school on Souvenir Blvd. in Chomedey took part in the protest on Jan. 27, part of which was captured on video and uploaded to the web.

The students staged protests inside the school in the morning, and then outside during lunch hour. A video posted to Facebook showed noisy teenagers shouting in a Laval Senior Academy hallway while waving handmade protest placards.

Face masks everywhere

The teens weren’t happy about the Covid face mask restrictions which were back in place following the post-Christmas resumption of classes, requiring them to wear face coverings everywhere in the school except while eating in the cafeteria, a Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board spokesperson said.

A still from the video posted online by students at Laval Senior Academy who staged a no-mask protest last week.

In a letter sent out to parents on the day of the incident, Laval Senior Academy’s principal maintained the demonstration was mostly peaceful, but that a few students’ families were contacted and disciplinary measures were necessary.

Principal Nathalie Rollin said the parents of some students were contacted as some disciplinary enforcement was needed for a minority of students who were deemed to have acted inappropriately.

Police called at one point

She said several students left class during the second period to express their concerns about the sanitary measures in place at the school. The students gathered outside on the sidewalk on Souvenir Blvd., while carrying placards.

But at one point, she added, school administrators decided to call police, although the protest was under control, and most students went back to class and continued with their day. By the end of recess, most students had returned inside the school, added Rollin.

However, while most students returned to class, others continued walking in hallways, prolonging the disruption. Rollin said some students were then escorted outside by administrators, who listened along with police to their concerns and the reasons behind their protest.

Students rejected masks

Although the SWLSB estimated the number of participants at about 50, others claimed there were at least 200 students involved at one point.

In her letter to parents, Rollin said the students complained that “they find it challenging to wear the mask at all times and find it difficult to only have the cafeteria as an option to eat their lunch. The cold weather and the fact that restaurants are closed add to their frustration.”

While maintaining they had to uphold public health rules for the safety of all, Laval Senior Academy officials offered to seek solutions to the lunch-hour cafeteria issues so that students might have more freedom on where they can eat within the school.

Challenge ahead, Galati says

In a recent televised interview prior to the resumption of in-person classes and before last week’s student protest, Paolo Galati, chairman of the SWLSB council of commissioners, emphasized that what the board is looking for is a safe in-person return to school.

While the SWLSB estimated the number of student protesters at around 50, others claimed there were at least 200 students involved

“And our highest priority, as always, is to ensure the health and safety of all our students and staff,” he said. “We know it’ll be a challenge. But we know we will get through the next couple of weeks together.”

Quebec’s new national director of public health, Dr. Luc Boileau, has initially dismissed the wearing of N95 masks in most classroom settings. However, Galati noted that Education Minister Jean-François Roberge said that teachers and support staff working with special needs students will have access to N95 masks.

N95 masks for all staff

“Although we are happy about this, we still feel that all staff – and I repeat all staff – who wish to have N95 masks should be entitled to have them. We want to protect our teachers and staff to the best of our ability, who as we all know will be exposed to the Omicron virus while in their classrooms or within the hallways and throughout their school environment. So, our wish at Sir Wilfrid Laurier is to provide N95 masks to any staff member that requests one.”

Responding to a suggestion that at some point volunteer parents might step in to provide in-school help if too many teachers come down with Covid, Galati said: “To have parents come in, I’m not sure that’s the best idea.”

Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board chairman Paolo Galati.

Guest mask guidelines

As it is, guidelines regarding the wearing of masks in schools (updated by the provincial government on Jan. 25) allow for visitors, who are defined as “any individual carrying out work at the school (e.g., guest speaker, science facilitator).”

Regarding COVID-19 rapid testing, Galati said that just as rapid tests were distributed to all elementary school students in December, the SWLSB was undertaking a second distribution to elementary students as the test kits are received, after which a third distribution would take place in February.

Galati said students who develop symptoms at school will be sent home whether they test negative or positive. “Omicron being very contagious, we’re not taking any chances due to the higher false negative results of rapid tests,” he said. “So, we will immediately isolate students who have any symptoms, as well as their siblings.”