Ottawa

School board trustee to present motion to bring back mask rules

Trustee Mark Fisher plans to present a motion bringing back masking rules at the English public school board's Tuesday meeting, saying he's concerned about the rise of COVID-19 in the city.

Parents, teachers and experts support a return of masking in schools

Students head back to class at Glebe Collegiate Institute last fall. With the sixth wave of COVID-19 hitting Ottawa hard, OCDSB school trustee Mark Fisher says he's planning to introduce a motion Tuesday to make masks mandatory once again. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

A trustee with Ottawa's largest school board plans to bring forward a motion Tuesday to reintroduce masking in all of its buildings, until the city's public health unit explicitly advises otherwise.

Ontario lifted most mask mandates on March 21. One week earlier, trustees with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) considered extending mandatory masking until April 8, but the motion failed. 

Trustee Mark Fisher, who plans to present another motion at the board's Tuesday meeting, said he's concerned about the rise of COVID-19 in the city.

"We're responsible for the health and wellbeing of 10,000 employees and over 70,000 students," Fisher said.

"We've had mask mandates in place before, so I think the time has come again where we need to reconsider putting in place this kind of simple measure."

Some parents support proposal

Ottawa has recently been setting records for the amount of coronavirus observed in wastewater. Ottawa Public Health (OPH) has said it's concerned about the resurgence of COVID-19, and Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches has recommended wearing masks indoors. 

Fisher said a number of classrooms in the River and Gloucester-Southgate wards, which he represents, have been closed, including twice in the last week at his daughter's school.

"I know that not every parent likes to see masks in schools. I certainly don't either. But I think it's an effective measure to address the … stage in the pandemic that we're in right now," said Fisher. 

OCDSB trustee Mark Fisher will present his motion at the English public school board's Tuesday meeting. He says he’s concerned about the rising presence of COVID-19 in the city.

Some parents of children at OCDSB schools agree.

Steven Cooke pulled his three children out of school Friday, and said a mask mandate would make the family more comfortable returning. 

"It's just simply too hot right now. COVID is swirling around us. So there's the safety side of things. But it's also not an effective learning environment right now," Cooke said.

"It's very disruptive, with lots of supply teachers, cancelled classes, and students being brought together and maybe lumped with two other classes."

'Nobody likes to go backwards and put in place these kind of measures. But masking is about the simplest thing that we can do as a community,' said OCDSB trustee Mark Fisher. (Zoom)

Cooke said he's fortunate he and his wife are educators, so they can continue to teach their kids. 

"It's time for more protections. And I'm using the word protection very strategically. This is not about restrictions," he said.

Christine Moulaison, a mother of four, also said it would be a huge relief to see mandatory mask rules return. Several of her children's classes were cancelled recently due to staff shortages, she said.

"My youngest three have just gotten two rounds of vaccines. My daughter's immunocompromised. So it's a huge issue," Moulaison said.

"It's really unfortunate that the board of trustees wasn't willing to step up and be a leader here in the beginning, to make sure that this issue wouldn't rear its ugly head again."

Steven Cooke said he's keeping his kids home as the sixth wave of COVID-19 rages. (Submitted by Steven Cooke)

'Pretty serious 6th wave'

Masking rules should have been the last to go, said Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and associate professor with the University of Ottawa's faculty of health sciences.

"Risk is not shared equally across the population," said Deonandan. "[We need] leaders at the municipal and provincial level to enact policies that help keep people safe in the throes of a pretty serious sixth wave."

Wearing a mask is a "high-impact, low-investment, low-cost" way to reduce the risk of COVID-19, he said. Some modelling suggests this current wave will peak at the beginning of May, he added.

"Let's not overreact to the negativity of these measures. This is, again, a temporary situation, and we must do what we can to protect the unvaccinated children."

Susan Gardner, president of the Ottawa Carleton Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO), also said it's about time masking was brought back.

"We're quite happy that this is happening and do believe that it's unfortunate that the trustees didn't vote in favour previously," said Gardner.

Anyone who needed a mask exemption before already has one in place, Gardner said.  Some educators were really concerned coming back after March break, she added, knowing the mandate had been lifted.

Ontario's remaining COVID-19 regulations are set to be lifted the end of April. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Krystalle Ramlakhan is a multi-platform journalist with CBC Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I., Winnipeg and Iqaluit.

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