The latest COVID-19 mask guidance by Toronto-area, Ontario school boards

By Lucas Casaletto

Two more Ontario school boards are asking staff and students to mask up.

In a letter to parents and guardians, the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) and the York Catholic District School Board (YCDSB) say the province is now experiencing the sixth wave of COVID-19. As a result, both school boards strongly recommend that all students, teachers, staff and visitors wear a mask indoors when they return to school on Tuesday.

“We will continue to closely monitor our trends in York Region and communicate any further changes to this recommendation,” officials at the two school boards wrote. “This advice is aligned with statements made by Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health on April 11, 2022, which noted that while masks are no longer mandatory, they are now strongly recommended in indoor spaces.”

This follows an update from the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), who on Wednesday acknowledged that while the province is navigating the sixth wave, mask-wearing will remain a personal choice for students and staff.

On Monday, the chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, issued a “strong recommendation” for everyone to wear masks in indoor public settings but stopped short of reinforcing a mask mandate for schools.

Here is a roundup of which GTA-and-Ontario-based schools are opting for and against mandated masks.

TDSB and Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB)

The TDSB said that although it takes its direction from the provincial government, which lifted mask mandates for most indoor spaces, including schools, on March 21, it’s requesting that all staff and students wear a well-fitting mask when indoors in schools.

The TDSB, however, is not mandating masks.

The TCDSB follows similar guidance, saying that “staff and students can continue to wear masks and eye protection if they wish.” Interestingly, last week, the union representing Catholic school teachers called on the province to reinstate the mask mandate in schools.

The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) wrote that teachers are missing work because of COVID-19 at an alarming rate, and those absences are going unfilled.

Peel District School Board (PDSB) and Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board (DPCDSB)

Similarly, the PDSB isn’t planning on mandating masks for staff and students.

In a recent update on April 7, the PDSB said: “Keeping our schools’ safe places to learn and work is our shared commitment. While masking is voluntary, it continues to be an effective protective measure. Please maintain good hand hygiene, and self-monitor for symptoms of COVID using the Ontario school screening tool.

“Please continue to keep your children home when they are sick,” the school board added, encouraging students and staff to respect the decision of others if they choose to wear a face covering.”

The DPCDSB echoed its Peel counterpart, saying that if staff and students wish to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), it will be made available.

Ottawa-Carleton District School Board 

The OCDSB is at least one provincial school board mandating masks indoors.

On Tuesday evening, the school board passed a motion requiring masks to be worn inside its schools. Trustee Mark Fisher, who proposed the motion, said: “Just because these matters are difficult doesn’t make doing them any less important.”

The Ford government has said school boards have no legal authority to mandate masks without a directive from a public health unit.

In a statement, Ottawa Public Health says it will not be introducing any local measures to require masking in schools.

Students wear protective masks as they arrive for classes in 2020. Photo courtesy: AP.

Halton District School Board (HDSB) and Halton Catholic District School Board (HCDSB)

Board trustees from Halton Region school boards also introduced a motion to bring mandatory masks back for students and staff. The move was spearheaded by Trustee Andrea Grebenc of the HDSB and one member from the OCDSB and the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board.

In a letter to parents and guardians on Thursday, Curtis Ennis, the HDSB’s Director of Education, said recent COVID-19 data shows that Halton Region reported the highest proportion of cases of the BA.2 Omicron variant in Ontario.

“As a school board, we want to limit the spread of COVID-19 and keep our schools open to provide continuous learning for students, which also supports mental health and well-being,” Ennis said.

“To support these important goals, I encourage students and staff to wear a high-quality mask (i.e., good fit and filtration) when indoors in schools and to get vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19 as soon as you are eligible.”

It’s unclear if the HCDSB will take a similar stance. It last posted an update on mask-wearing on March 9, saying it would follow provincial guidance and not mandate masks indoors.

Durham District School Board (DDSB)

The DDSB last updated parents and guardians on March 11, well over a month ago. Officials said that the DDSB would be following provincial guidance and was not recommending additional measures for schools or daycares.

While the mask mandate was removed, the DDSB said wearing a face-covering is still encouraged. In March, the school board passed a motion to see Durham region schools provide three-ply masks for students who request them until June 2022.

“We ask that everyone be kind, considerate and respectful to one another and the choices that individuals make on wearing a mask,” the DDSB said.

Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB)

The HWDSB unanimously voted on Monday to call for a reinstatement of mask mandates in its schools. Trustees backed a motion for members to write open letters to the Ministry of Education and local medical officer of health to bring back masking orders.

That followed a decision by the school board to move forward with its plan to mandate masking indoors and on school buses until April 1.

Earlier in the month, the board no longer mandated face coverings at schools but strongly encouraged students and staff to wear masks indoors.

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