Ottawa

Ottawa's largest school board doesn't pass its own extended mask mandate

At a special meeting Monday night, Ottawa-Carleton District School Board trustees considered extending mandatory masking until April 8, but ultimately didn't vote for defying the province.

OCDSB also votes to drop vaccine mandate

A child wearing a face mask arrives at school in New York City in January 2022. Ontario won't require mandatory masks in schools after March Break and Ottawa's two English school boards are following that guidance. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Ottawa's largest school board is not extending mandatory mask rules beyond March Break nor continuing with its vaccine mandates.

The Ontario government is lifting most mask mandates on Monday, along with removing the cohort system and daily on-site screening in schools. Several groups have said the mask change is premature.

During a special meeting that lasted well into Monday night, Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) trustees considered extending mandatory masking until April 8 for kindergarten to Grade 12, but ultimately didn't have the votes to defy the province.

The motion failed to pass in a tie vote, with six opposed and six in favour.

Trustees in favour of the extension argued that all rules being lifted at once could put immunocompromised staff and students at risk. Trustees against said they were comfortable with public health decisions.

Students and staff in Ottawa's largest school board can shed their masks when they're back from March Break. Board chari Lynn Scott explains the board's decision to keep in line with guidance from the province.

Board asks province to consider extension instead

Somerset/Kitchissippi trustee Justine Bell, who put together the motion on the board's mask extension, told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning last week that schools aren't the place to quickly lift restrictions with the hope that case numbers stay low.

She also said that changing the rules now could confuse students who have been told for months that masks are essential to protect themselves and their friends. 

Somerset/Kitchissippi School Trustee Justine Bell, seen here in a file screengrab from 2020, said the end of previous school breaks has generally matched a rise in COVID-19 spread. (CBC)

    Trustees voted instead to ask the province to consider extending mask rules for a few weeks to help adjust to the lack of daily screening and cohorting.

    The board will also ask for more guidance on how to protect immunocompromised staff and students.

    Ottawa's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches, said last week that the city's COVID-19 trends have been stable but are relatively high.

    People should still think about ways to limit risks, she said. That includes staying home when sick as screening stops at schools.

    The Ottawa Catholic School Board is also dropping mask mandates Monday.

    Board also drops vaccination requirements

    In addition to dropping mask mandates, the OCDSB voted to drop the vaccine mandates for employees and visitors that have been in place since last September. The board has a vaccine compliance rate of more than 98 per cent for staff.

    Rideau-Vanier/Capital trustee Lyra Evans, who was in favour of keeping this requirement, had argued the board has the authority and the moral responsibility to protect students in its care.

    "We have made the decision to go above and beyond as we have felt it is necessary in the past, and I continue to believe it is necessary," she said. 

    But the board voted to rescind the mandate, with some stating concerns about the feasibility of continuing.

    College trustee Rob Campbell said the rules were put in place to support vaccination efforts, but if public health no longer requires proof of vaccination, neither should the school board. 

    "It's impossible to have a superstructure on a foundation that no longer exists," Campbell said.

    With files from Darren Major and Spencer Van Dyk

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