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Exemptions from the requirement to wear a mask at all times for the school system and higher education

There are a number of situations where wearing a medical mask at all times requires adjustments to be made to the health measures, namely, when the mask interferes with communication, understanding or learning. The cases below are classified by category of staff and describe situations where a medical mask does not have to be worn at all times. This information is provided as a complement to the publication Control measures in the workplace in the context of the appearance of variants under increased surveillance.

School system and higher education

Teachers and professors

Can teachers or professors remove their medical mask or BNQ-certified mask in a classroom where students are wearing a medical mask?

A teacher who is giving a class or a professor who is giving a lecture may remove their mask, if necessary, for the shortest possible length of time to communicate and if a physical distance of more than 2 metres is maintained at all times (for example, when the teacher or professor is standing next to the board). 

This applies to all educational sectors, i.e., youth general education, adult general education, vocational training or higher education.

It also applies to a teacher or professor:

  • in special education classes for the entire youth general education sector
  • in reception classes for the entire youth general education sector or in francization in adult education
Professional staff

Can professionals remove their medical mask or BNQ-certified mask in a classroom where students are wearing a medical mask?

A professional who is giving a workshop (e.g., a workshop on bullying or anxiety) may remove their mask, if necessary, for the shortest possible length of time to communicate and if a physical distance of more than 2 metres is maintained at all times.

What are the options for speech therapists, audiologists or speech and hearing correction officers when they are working with a student with specific problems? 

For example, a speech therapist who has to help a student improve their pronunciation by showing them how to do it with their own mouth and then check that the student is doing it properly.

  1. A professional who is separated from the student with specific problems by a transparent physical barrier may remove their mask, if necessary, for the shortest possible length of time to communicate.
  2. Medical masks with a window that are certified by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) or the equivalent are accepted and may be used by professional staff.

Wearing another type of mask with a window (for example, ClearMaskTM) combined with protective eyewear (safety goggles or visor) also complies with the guidelines. However, since this type of mask is different from a medical mask and its design prevents it from being tested according to the ASTM F2100 standard, the CNESST, like the public health authorities, believes that a prior assessment must be done before authorizing the use of a non-certified mask. This assessment attests that:

  • the nature of the task requires it (for example, when working with the hearing impaired)
  • none of the other solutions in the required controls (physical distancing of 2 m, physical barrier, etc.) can be used
  • a mask with a window is a last resort for workers, once the exercise described above has been done
School support staff

For example: special education technician, attendant for students with disabilities

Can school support staff remove their medical mask or BNQ-certified mask with one or more students who are wearing a medical mask even if the minimum distance of 2 metres cannot be maintained?

Medical masks with a window that are certified by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) or the equivalent are accepted and can be used by professional staff.

Wearing another type of mask with a window (for example, ClearMaskTM) combined with protective eyewear (safety goggles or visor) also complies with the guidelines. However, since this type of mask is different from a medical mask and its design prevents it from being tested according to standard ASTM F2100, the CNESST, like the public health authorities, believes that a prior assessment must be done before authorizing the use of a non-certified mask. This assessment attests that:

  • the nature of the task requires it (for example, working with the hearing impaired)
  • none of the other solutions in the required controls (physical distancing of 2 m, physical barrier, etc.) can be used
  •  a mask with a window is a last resort for workers, once the exercise described above has been done
School childcare services

Can staff remove their medical mask or BNQ-certified mask in a childcare facility?

Staff in a childcare facility who have to lead a learning activity may remove their medical mask, if necessary, for the shortest possible length of time to communicate and if a physical distance of more than 2 metres is maintained at all times.

Risk assessment and analysis

In situations where an exemption may apply, facilities are asked to do a risk assessment and analysis.

In addition to the rigorous application of the control measures already recommended, additional mandatory criteria will have to be taken into account, such as:

  • physical distancing of more than 2 metres
  • the separation of people by a transparent physical barrier
  • the restriction of times when masks are not worn

Staff must contact the management of their facility in order to have the assessment carried out.

The workplace hazard identification tool can be consulted on the CNESST’s website.

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