Ottawa

OCDSB delays emergency meeting on vaccine, mask rules

About two weeks before the start of its school year, Ottawa's largest school board has delayed a debate on going beyond provincial requirements for masks and vaccines.

Trustee Lyra Evans is bringing several motions to make rules stricter

OCDSB trustee Lyra Evans plans to bring five motions at the board's emergency meeting Tuesday evening. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

About two weeks before the start of its school year, Ottawa's largest school board has delayed a debate on going beyond provincial requirements to mandate both vaccines for many school users and masking for kindergartners. 

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) had planned the discussion for a special board meeting Tuesday evening, but after a long in camera session the meeting was adjourned before a debate could happen.

Board trustees agreed there was not enough time to dive into the rule changes and are expected to schedule another meeting in the coming days. 

Trustee Lyra Evans has several motions she will propose at the meeting: three relate to mandating vaccines for educators, for volunteers in schools and for users of school buildings.

The others would require masks for kindergartners and a medical education plan for students, including having school-based vaccine clinics.

All motions will need to be voted on and, if passed, ratified at a follow-up meeting. 

OPH comfortable with return to class

As part of his public health update at Tuesday's meeting Dr. Brent Moloughney said parents and staff can feel "comfortable and confident" in a return to in-person learning because Ottawa's case numbers and hospitalizations are at a manageable level

Ottawa's deputy medical officer of health said Ottawa Public Health supports masking for kindergartners as "they don't have the best hygiene" and "they tend to cluster together," along with not being eligible for vaccines yet. 

"Certainly the adults that are around children, it's important for them to be vaccinated, so we are supportive of any policy that's going to increase vaccination," Moloughney said. 

He gave the caveat that it's up to the school board to decide what makes sense on an implementation front. 

Ontario only requires students as young as Grade 1 to wear a mask in the classroom, and as announced last week, educators will also have to disclose their vaccination status. Those who are unvaccinated against COVID-19 will need to undergo regular testing.

Evans said the board has a duty to consider there will be children in its schools who will not be able to get a vaccine for age or medical reasons, including kids who are in Ottawa for treatment at its children's hospital.

"The province has not been strict enough and there are local considerations that might not be true in every area across the province," Evans said. 

She said kindergarten-age children should be used to wearing masks while doing things such as shopping with their parents or playing with friends.

Parents support mandatory vaccination 

Albert Stoffers said his daughter is that age and he didn't have trouble getting her to wear a mask, but knows other parents who have struggled with it.  

"I think it should be pushed as best as possible … as long as everyone understands that it's not going to work 100 per cent," Stoffers said. 

He does agree with Evans on the vaccination front. 

"I think any teacher going into the school should be vaccinated, certainly for the protection of the little ones."

He said he wishes the meeting had happened earlier to give parents and educators more time to prepare, but in general he's excited for his daughter to go back to school. 

"It was amazing just to see how much they miss that social interaction with their friends and family of their age group," Stoffers said about this summer with fewer restrictions. 

An example of what a classroom in an Ottawa-Carleton District School Board school looked like to start the 2020-21 school year, which ended with remote learning. (Ottawa-Carleton District School Board)

Parent Chris Redden, on the other hand, said he's nervous about the return to school.

He said more information about COVID-19 protocols earlier would have helped planning for the school year. 

"I'm not surprised this happened to the last minute, but I'm also incredibly disappointed in the school board, in the government. They knew this was coming." 

Tuesday's meeting also heard from parents who both supported and didn't support mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations and masking.

With files from Ahmar Khan and Krystalle Ramlakhan

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