Hamilton trustee calls for mask mandates as 'unqualified educators' fill vacant teacher roles

Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) trustees unanimously voted to have chair Dawn Danko write to the province and local public health asking them to reconsider the move to end mask mandates.

Hamilton public school board trustees want to reimpose mask mandates

Hamilton's public school board is, once again, asking the province and public health to consider implementing masking mandates. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Hamilton's public school board is once again calling for mandatory masking as one trustee says some absent teaching positions are being filled by teaching students.

Alex Johnstone, a Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) trustee, moved the idea at a Monday board meeting. As a result, board chair Dawn Danko will once again write letters to the province and Hamilton public health asking them to reconsider the move in late March to end mask mandates.

"We now have occasional teachers and long-term occasional positions being filled by unqualified educators, individuals who are in their final year of university ... We've had to resort to that because we do not have enough people to fill positions to cover absenteeism," Johnstone told CBC Hamilton.

"Even by introduction of those measures ... we're still short."

Danko's letters, Johnstone said, will also ask for clarity on where the school board is supposed to address their concerns.

Public health says province is the authority

But Dr. Elizabeth Richardson Hamilton's medical officer of health told CBC Hamilton the province "has been clear it is the authority on masking policies for schools."

"While Hamilton Public Health Services isn't in a position to require mask use in school, we do strongly encourage all Hamiltonians to continue with effective layers of protection that can make a difference for themselves, their loved ones, and others around them, including their fellow students and teachers," Richardson said early Tuesday afternoon.

Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, Hamilton's medical officer of health, said people need to make their own decisions on the precautions they'll take against COVID-19, but recommended vaccination. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

She added that everyone – including school staff and students five years of age and over – should get vaccinated.

"Booster doses for those 12 years of age and over save lives and antivirals for those eligible reduce hospitalizations and risk of severe outcomes."

HWDSB previously extended its own mandate on masking indoors and on school buses until April 1, despite a lack of praise from the province or public health.

It comes as school board trustees in Halton and Ottawa have also called for the return of mandatory masking, and as the province faces a new wave of COVID-19.

Johnstone pointed to a recent Public Health Ontario report that shows COVID-19 cases, test positivity rates and hospitalizations have gone up since mandatory masking ended on March 21.

"The full impact of lifting masking and other measures may not yet be observable, given limited PCR testing eligibility and lagging hospitalization data," the report says.

No plans for provincial mask mandate

Ontario's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, also told reporters Monday that there are no plans to impose mandatory masking rules right now.

"We've not seen any significant threat to the health of children," he said.

Richardson and local public health predicted the new wave will stretch into the summer.

WATCH: Ontario rules out reimposing mask mandates amid 6th COVID-19 wave

Ontario rules out reimposing mask mandates amid 6th COVID-19 wave

8 months ago
Duration 2:00
New mask mandates aren’t being considered ‘at this time,’ according to Ontario’s chief medical health officer, even as the province faces a surge in cases and hospitalizations driven by the BA.2 variant.

She said anyone with symptoms or a positive test result should stay home. She also said people need to decide for themselves what measures they'll take to avoid infection.

Riachardson said public health is closely monitoring indicators like hospitalizations and ICU admissions.

Speaking about schools, Johnstone said the focus needs to be not only on keeping schools open, but the quality of education students are getting.

She said she'll be watching the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board meeting tonight.


Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.


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