Ottawa’s largest school board says masks are now mandatory for students, staff, and visitors in all schools and buildings.
In an email Wednesday, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) told parents that its board of trustees has passed a motion Tuesday evening, requiring all staff, students from kindergarten to Grade 12, volunteers, and visitors to wear a mask inside schools and buildings with immediate effect.
Camille Williams-Taylor, director of education at OCDSB, said the reason for doing so is due to the rising COVID-19 cases in the community.
Williams-Taylor said the school board is expecting non-compliance from some students.
“Where a student without an exemption refuses to comply with the masking requirements, staff are asked to show understanding, promote awareness, and use trauma-informed practices in order to make efforts to understand the reason for the lack of compliance and see if a resolution can be reached,” she wrote.
Exemptions include breathing difficulties, cognitive conditions, and religious grounds, which must be approved by the school principal, the email stated.
Should a student continue not to wear a mask, said schools are authorized to implement further measures, the email said.
“Where a student is refusing to comply with the masking requirement, parents/guardians will be called to either assist in helping the student fulfill the masking requirement, or to apply for an exemption to the masking requirement,” said the director.
The board stressed that students will not be suspended or expelled for refusing to wear a mask.
Williams-Taylor said the order is legal, even though the provincial or local health authority had not requested mandatory masking.
“The school district has the legal authority to require the wearing of masks for health and safety reasons," she said.
“This is a rule of law issue,” he added.
Williams-Taylor’s email also addressed concerns of parents who may not want their child to be in class with unmasked students.
“The requirement for mask wearing is mandatory,” the email said. “We anticipate that the majority of students will comply. However, we respect that some families may seek an accommodation/exemption. It’s important that everyone respects the rights and choices of others.”
Criminal lawyer David Anber took to Twitter to say that the school district has no way of “forcing” students to wear masks against their will.
“The reason for that, quite simply, was the issue of how do you enforce it, and how much additional protection would such a mandate really provide?” she said.
She added that even when the provincial mask mandate was in force, schools in her district “certainly did not see 100 percent mask use.”
“Certainly you can ask students to wear masks. You can talk about the perceived benefits of masks. But ultimately, I don't believe that we can send children home because they're not wearing masks,” she said.
Scott said parents have reached out to her expressing their concerns about the newly imposed mask mandate by the board.
“They are vaccinated, they are mostly wearing masks, but what they really feel is it should be at this stage a matter of parental choice, of family choice,” she said.
“I’m concerned as a trustee. We cannot pick and choose when safety is important,” he said, defending his motion.
“There will be people in our schools tomorrow just like they were today and that will continue throughout,” she said before the vote.
“I refuse to give people a false sense of security.”
Meanwhile, the Toronto District School Board has said although it takes its direction from the provincial government, it will ask all staff and students to wear a well-fitting mask when indoors in schools, though not mandatory.
Earlier this week, Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, said the province would not be reinstating “a broad mask mandate” at this time, but recommended masks be worn in indoor public spaces.