Hamilton’s public school board has issued guidelines around a “temporary universal masking requirement” set to take effect at learning facilities Monday.
In a note to parents, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) said it is supporting the action via recommendations from public health authorities to wear a mask indoors.
“This action is a supportive measure to reduce the spread of respiratory illnesses that are impacting students,” said director of education Sheryl Robinson Petrazzini in the letter released Thursday.
Students will be allowed to opt out of the initiative, but they will need permission.
Parents and guardians are being told they will need to submit a “Mask Opt-Out” form, acquired through the HWDSB web site or on paper at any school, if their child plans to attend school without a mask.
There also is an option for a parent or guardian to let the school know verbally as well.
The temporary masking requirement is the board’s answer to the increasing spread of respiratory illnesses that have overrun McMaster Children’s Hospital.
The protocol was passed by the HWDSB on Monday night amid a boisterous board meeting which saw several members of the public in attendance.
Mask will be required for the next two weeks, before the holiday break, and the police will be revisited at a board meeting Jan. 16 to decide on a renewal and potential end date.
HWDSB chair Dawn Danko told Global News earlier this week the board doesn’t have substantive data to confirm increases in student absences after the “triple threat” of the flu, COVID-19, and RSV infections.
Based on how the HWDSB collects the information, Danko said there has been a noticeable increase in absences compared with last year, with a smaller increase in staff absences.
“So we’re observing … situations where half the class is away and hearing from families and students that it has a real impact … because oftentimes when people are getting sick, it’s not for a day or two. They’re off for a week,” Danko said.
Medical masks will continue to be made readily available in school offices and in classrooms for staff and students.
Staff will also offer and provide a medical mask for visitors to schools, as requested.
The board also offered other advice on masking in the directive, like washing hands before touching a face covering, making sure the mask fits well with no gaps, and replacing a mask when it becomes damp, dirty or damaged.