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Masks stay optional after all at Thames Valley District School Board

Officials masking will stay optional at the Thames Valley District School Board, even after its Board of Trustees voted to enact a masking requirement earlier this week. Matthew Trevithick / Global News

Masks will remain optional after all at the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB), even after its Board of Trustees voted to enact a masking requirement, TVDSB officials said on Thursday.

Put forward in a motion from Trustee Corrine Rahman, trustees voted to approve the requirement during a special meeting held on Tuesday. It came in response to a growing number of staff absences at TVDSB that have been linked to illness amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

During Tuesday’s meeting, TVDSB general legal counsel Ali Chahbar told trustees that while they had the right to pass the motion, TVDSB would not be able to enforce a masking requirement.

“When the government of Ontario decided to lift that mask requirement as of March 21 of this year, the end result of that was that it served to remove the enforcement mechanism that existed,” Chahbar said at the time.

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Read more: Trustees pass indoor masking requirement for Thames Valley District School Board

In an interview with Global News on Thursday, TVDSB associate director Riley Culhane said the school board consulted with the Ministry of Education the day after the mask requirement was passed.

“We have reviewed that motion with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Education has confirmed that as a school board, we are required to continue to provide students and staff with choice when it comes to masking,” Culhane said.

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“That being said, we do encourage all of our students and our staff to wear masks as one layer of protection when it comes to health.”

Read more: Ottawa public school board trustees vote to implement mask mandate

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When it comes to staff absences at TVDSB, Culhane says they’re still high, but have reduced “over the past week or so.”

As far as mask use at TVDSB, the fourth largest board in Ontario which holds schools in London, Middlesex County, Oxford County and Elgin County, Culhane says anecdotally he’s seen differences from community to community.

“In some communities, you will see the majority of staff and students wearing masks, and in other communities, you may see the majority of students and staff choosing not to wear masks,” Culhane said.

“At this point, it is a choice for our students and staff, and we need to honour and respect those choices.”

Last week, similar moves were made by trustees at other school boards in Ontario.

At the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, trustees voted to implement a mask mandate, while trustees at the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board voted to explore options to implement a mandate.

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