The TDSB issued a tweet just after midnight indicating TDSB trustees voted on Thursday night during a special board meeting to write a letter to Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, the Minister of Education, and Toronto Public Health.
TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird told Global News the board’s trustees are requesting to be allowed additional time to remove COVID-19 measures in school, as part of a parallel process.
“I think a lot of these measures people want to see lifted but they may not be ready for them quite yet,” Bird continued. “So I think that’s at the centre of the letter from trustees is that, look, we recognize that people want these measures lifted eventually, but give us a little bit of extra time, particularly when it comes to masking.”
The move comes as the provincial government announced on Wednesday it was dropping mandatory masking starting on March 21, as well as other measures, after students return from March Break.
Bird said at the current moment the board is going to go ahead with the ministry’s direction until otherwise.
“A response has been requested by Wednesday, March 16,” the TDSB said in a detailed outline to parents of the list of changes coming into effect on March 21 from the province.
“Should that request be approved, the changes and timelines referenced above may change. Should that happen, we would share an update with the TDSB Community as soon as possible.”
The province said after March 21, masks will not be mandatory but will be encouraged and highly recommended for those who are immunocompromised, at high risk, or choose to still use them based on comfort levels.
“And anyone who wants to wear a mask … they’re more than welcome to. It’s going to be up to the people,” Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday.
The TDSB said surgical masks, N-95 masks and other PPE will be available to students and staff if requested.
The province is also no longer requiring on-site verification of screening for all children, students and staff, suggesting instead that they self-screen before attending school or child care every day and stay at home if they are experiencing new or worsening symptoms of illness.
In addition, co-horting and distancing will no longer be required in schools. Visitors will be permitted into school buildings.
When it comes to visitors, Bird said he sees it as “another step to normalcy that we haven’t had in, well, now two years already.”
As well, the TDSB said trustees voted to rescind the requirement for mandatory vaccination requirement for staff as of March 14. The TDSB said that move is in line with the province’s direction and with TDSB union and federation partners.
To date, more than 90 per cent of TDSB staff are fully vaccinated and the board said it will now begin to plan for a transition towards allowing unvaccinated staff to return to work.
“As we move to a more sustainable, long-term approach to managing COVID-19, you are encouraged to continue with the layers of protection that make you feel comfortable,” the TDSB wrote in its notice to parents. “Please remember to show respect for others and their individual choices based on their own assessment of risk.”
Some teachers’ unions, such as the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), called it “premature” to remove masking in schools and said it risks further disruption and jeopardizes safety.
“We have crowded classrooms, air quality concerns, unknown COVID-19 case counts in schools, and only a 55 per cent first-dose vaccination rate among elementary students five to 11,” said ETFO president Karen Brown shortly after the announcement on Wednesday was made.
“We’re removing another key layer of protection — which is masking to slow down the spread. We’re concerned that our members are going to be exposed,” Brown said.
— With files from Global News’ Caryn Liberman