EMSB plans to vote on in-class mask mandate as government awaits new guidance from public health

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EMSB poised to implement mask mandate
WATCH: With back to school just around the corner, the English Montreal School Board is getting set to implement its own COVID-19 guidelines. On Sept. 1, the board plans to make masks mandatory in class for all students. Global's Dan Spector explains. – Aug 23, 2021

The chair of the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) says he is confident kids attending his organization’s schools will be mandated to wear masks in class next week.

As of now,  Quebec is only asking elementary and high school students to be masked in common areas and school buses. The EMSB, however, seems set to implement even stronger measures.

As COVID cases trend in the wrong direction, some parents are concerned.  In its plan unveiled in mid-August, the government said kids will need to wear masks in common areas and school buses, but not in class.

“My kids, you know, they’re scared to go back to school if they don’t have to wear masks,” said Mubeenah Mughal, an EMSB parent commissioner and a mother of three school children.

READ MORE: ‘Happy day’: Quebec CEGEPs reopen to in-person classes for 1st time since start of COVID-19

Quebec may soon change course on that, as it awaits updated guidance from public health. The English Montreal School Board is not waiting around.

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“There’s going to be a resolution on the floor on our September 1st council meeting,” explained EMSB chair Joe Ortona.

Next week, the EMSB Council of Commissioners will hold a vote, possibly mandating masks in class and class bubbles before the province does.

“I can say with a fair amount of confidence without knowing the outcome, obviously, that certainly some measures are probably going to be adopted on September 1st,” Ortona said.

Mughal is happy the board is moving ahead with mandating masks in class.

“It makes me proud of the EMSB that it sees and hears what parents want,” she said.

Support for the idea is not unanimous on the EMSB Facebook page, however. Some are denouncing the idea of kids wearing masks in class, but Ortona is unfazed.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan recommends students get vaccinated, staff mask up in common spaces

“If you’re looking for absolute unanimity when we make decisions, we’ll never make a decision,” he said. “We’re in a global pandemic and we haven’t gotten past it yet and we have to ensure the safety and security of the children.”

A union representing tens of thousands of teachers said with uncertainty swirling around the government’s plan, they understand the EMSB’s move.

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“We’re not really surprised that they’re doing that,” said CSQ president Eric Gingras. Gingras said teachers are full of questions about the government’s back to school plan. They want to know about government backup plans if outbreaks occur in schools.

Reached on the phone by Global News, Jean-François Del Torchio, a spokesperson for Education Minister Jean-François Roberge, said the minister is hoping to release revised guidelines for schools as early as Tuesday. Roberge said in mid August that certain regions may require stricter measures than originally announced based on the epidemiological situation. Del Torchio said Roberge is waiting to review the latest recommendations from Public Health before announcing adjustments.

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