School trustee wants Ottawa's largest board to extend mask mandate

The Ottawa Carleton District School Board of trustees will meet Monday to publicly discuss the lifting of mask mandates and one trustee wants the board to extend them until the middle of April.

Trustee Justine Bell would like to see mandates in place until at least mid-April

Ontario announced it would be lifting mask mandates in schools effective March 21, 2022. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

The Ottawa Carleton District School Board of trustees will meet Monday to publicly discuss the lifting of mask mandates and one trustee wants the board to extend them until the middle of April.

The Ontario government announced Wednesday it will lift mask mandates in elementary schools effective March 21, just after March Break. 

Just one day later, a Hamilton, Ont., school board voted to keep the mandate, which drew the ire of Premier Doug Ford on Friday.

Ford wants school boards to follow the rules set by Ontario's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, but that didn't stop trustee Justine Bell, who represents the Ottawa area of Somerset/Kitchissippi, to call for masks to stay at schools within the OCDSB.

"What I'm asking for — and what the other boards throughout the province are asking for — is time," Bell said. "Time to ensure we're making the right move."

Bell wants the mask mandate extended until at least April 15 to give the board an opportunity to re-assess the policy after students return from March Break. 

None of Ottawa's four school boards have requested the mandate be extended, although boards elsewhere in the province have done so.

On Friday afternoon, the OCDSB confirmed it would meet on Monday to discuss the lifting of the mask mandate.

Requests for time

Toronto District School Board said in a statement Friday it will write to Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce to request "additional time" for removing COVID-19 measures in schools.

The Children's Health Coalition, a Toronto-based advocacy group, also said in a statement it would have preferred to see mask mandates in place for two weeks after March Break to assess the impact of a broader opening across the province.

Bell said the province's decision places the burden for managing the situation on teachers and parents.

"Ultimately, it's not fair," she said. "Our teachers and our educators and our staff deserve better."

Ottawa-Carleton District School Board trustee Justine Bell says she would like to see the mask mandate extended to mid-April. (Submitted)

The OCDSB circulated an email to parents Thursday evening with guidance for families outlining a list of public health measures to remain in effect, including self-screening and isolation requirements under specific circumstances.

The board also "strongly encouraged" the continued use of masks in classrooms.

'We make education decisions': Catholic board

Tom D'Amico, director of education for the Ottawa Catholic School Board, said he will defer to public health on decisions around masking.

"We've stuck to the fact that we make education decisions, and we'll leave the health decisions to Ottawa Public Health," D'Amico said.

Meanwhile, medical officer of health for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, said he thinks March 21 is too soon to lift mandatory masking. He said in his weekly COVID-19 briefing Wednesday school boards need more time to prepare and assess case counts after March Break.

D'Amico said the issue of masking in classrooms has "moved from mandate to personal choice."

"Most people would have preferred a staggered approach," D'Amico said. "But that's not our decision to make."


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