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Wearing a mask in universities: the vagueness reigns

FRANCOPRESSE – As the return to school begins in universities, the rules surrounding the wearing of masks in classrooms remain unclear. If the internal regulations of the universities give them a certain autonomy, the lack of government supervision leaves several institutions in the dark. This is notably the case for Saint Paul University in Ottawa and Laurentian University in Sudbury.

Inès Lombardo – Francopresse

Elected officials hammer it since this summer: this return will be “special”.

In Ontario, the majority of university courses offered will be online, to the delight of some students, while a tiny proportion will be face-to-face. Some 300 students will attend the Saint Paul University campus in Ottawa and 500 that of Laurentian in Sudbury. We tried to contact Glendon College in Toronto, but our requests went unanswered.

“No decision has been taken”

At Saint-Paul University, out of a capacity of 5,000 students, 300 said they had no problem with physical distancing, reports the rector, Chantal Beauvais.

Many have long dreamed of being able to take their courses online, but in the context of the pandemic, the dream has turned into a nightmare. Some have only one desire: to come back to campus. It would be a way of escaping an environment that is not very conducive to work (shared flats with several or few places at home), or of compensating for a lack of equipment (wifi, computer, etc.).

To accommodate these students, the administration of Saint Paul University has decided to offer 50% of the courses face-to-face, while also making them available online.

At Saint Paul University, out of a capacity of 5,000 students, 300 have indicated that they want to return to campus. Credit: Courtesy Saint-Paul University

At the University of Ottawa, here is the answer obtained by Francopresse on August 17, ten days before the start of the school year, concerning the question of wearing masks inside classrooms: “We must keep in mind that the The vast majority of courses will be offered remotely for the fall session. The number of students physically present on campus will be considerably reduced. We are still ready to assess the need to impose the wearing of masks inside classrooms for those who will have to go to campus for a face-to-face course. So far, no decision has been taken. ”


The classroom, this gray area

According to the rector of Saint Paul University, Chantal Beauvais, the institution will have no trouble accommodating 300 students, plus staff, due to the configuration of the university, which has large rooms.

In shared spaces such as corridors, elevators and cafeteria, it is clear: the mask is compulsory.

0901 Francopresse Port du masque universités Masque Université Laurentienne Cr. Courtoisie ULaurentienne
Laurentian University in Sudbury will provide a motivational mask of Laurentian to every member of the student body, staff and faculty. Credit: Courtesy Laurentian University

However, with regard to the classrooms, the president confirms that no clear direction has come from the Ontario government. “The ministerial tendency is to leave a lot of autonomy to manage operations,” she underlines.

To ensure the safety of students and teaching staff who will come to the campus, in order to respect the distance recommended by public health authorities, only 15 students will be welcomed for face-to-face lessons, in a room that can accommodate 40.

“We required the wearing of a mask, but it is not compulsory if the two meters are respected”, continues the rector. Chantal Beauvais points out that the university is only applying the rules of Public Health Ontario.

However, the nature of the classrooms at the university differs from those at the elementary or secondary level; students are not in the context of “bubbles”, unlike students in these schools.


The answers are slow in coming

From this perspective, should classrooms be defined as closed public spaces? Some Ontario students are still wondering, as the start of the school year is just around the corner.

Ottawa Public Health redirected the matter to the City and its Provisional regulation on the wearing of compulsory masks. The document is clear for the case of schools, whose rooms are “not considered as closed public spaces”.

Regarding universities, Roger Chapman, Director of By-Law Services at the City of Ottawa, confirmed on August 26 that “post-secondary educational institutions are governed by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities Act as well as by a board of governors, which determines the policies regarding the use of the post-secondary educational institution, including classrooms. ”

“For example, the Municipal Bylaws Services are of the opinion that the Provisional Mask Wearing By-law does not generally apply to staff and students who use post-secondary school classrooms as their own. teaching space, ”concludes Roger Chapman.

Anthony Di Monte, Director General of Emergency and Protective Services in Ottawa, agrees: “In terms of municipal bylaws, we will not intervene in universities and colleges […] who will set up their regulations ”.

Translation and confirmation: universities are not subject to municipal regulations, at least in Ottawa.

0826 Francopresse Financement éducation postsecondaire Université Laurentienne Cr. Jason Paris Wikimedia Commons
Less than 1% of the courses will be offered in person on the Laurentian campus. Credit: Jason Paris – Wikimedia Commons

In Sudbury, on August 25, theater students at Laurentian University received the following message: “Masks are mandatory in all interior spaces of the department. […]”.

Laurentian announced its mask wearing policy July 28 on the main page of the university’s website. Section 3.3.1 details the situations in which face covering is mandatory, including when students walk in hallways or interior areas to a destination.

When a student walks towards a room, the face covering must therefore be put on. But what about during class? The same paragraph states that the mask is mandatory when “you are in a classroom or study room, a gymnasium, an office or a meeting room with other people where it is impossible to maintain a physical distance of at least. minus two meters ”. While it is possible to maintain this physical distance, it would appear that students can remove their masks while seated.

Isabelle Bourgeault-Tassé, director of communications for Laurentian, finally affirms that “indeed: you have to be able to maintain a physical distance of at least two meters.”

The administration of Laurentian University specifies that it plans to welcome approximately 500 students in its residences this year, against 1,200 in normal times. While the campus can accommodate 8,000 students, less than 1% of classes will be offered in person.

“We expect that a small number of students will occasionally come to campus to attend a few classes in person,” concludes Isabelle Bourgeault-Tassé. The start of the school year promises to be special.