Hamilton’s public school board intends to extend it’s mask mandate for students and staff amid COVID-19 concerns despite the provincial declaration ending a number of safety measures next Monday.
In a statement on Wednesday afternoon, following another special meeting Tuesday night, Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) chair Dawn Danko said an updated motion calls for schools to keep masks “through a transition period following March break” until April 1.
Danko told 900 CHML’s Good Morning Hamilton the extra time will allow the board to accommodate students who want to switch to remote learning if they’re not comfortable with the reduced restrictions.
The chair said the direction also is in alignment with advice from the Children’s Health Coalition which strongly encourages continued mask use for two weeks after March Break.
“That recommended that two week period would be really helpful beyond March break to help facilitate and reduce the risk related to likely increase absences if there’s a spike in cases, as we’ve seen following holidays where there’s a lot of increased socialization in the past,” Danko said.
Danko says the ministry has been clear in the past that guidelines from the province were the “minimum standard” and boards could exceed them.
She expects the measure to remain until they hear from the ministry.
The Section 22 order allows a medical officer of health to make an order where they are of the opinion, upon reasonable and probable grounds, that a communicable disease poses an immediate risk of an outbreak.
However, trustees opted to change the original April 15 stop date to April 1 during a special meeting just hours after the initial request believing the new date would allow for a buffer until a provincial directive or policy puts the motion out of order.
Hamilton public health has not received any new ask from Danko as of Wednesday afternoon, but told Global News it will review any request upon receipt.
Education director John Bryant suggested the original motion would be a “challenge” for principals in terms of monitoring students and that it failed to employ a clause for exemptions.
The updated plan calls for masks in schools until April 1 with campaigns to encourage continued mask usage in classrooms for the remainder of the semester.
Ontario’s education minister defended the province’s plan to end mask rules along with other COVID-19 measures on March 21 despite concerns from parents, educators, health experts and political opponents.
Stephen Lecce said last week that Ontario is following a handful of other Canadian jurisdictions, including Saskatchewan and Alberta, that have already lifted mask mandates.