OCDSB To Debate Making Masks Mandatory In Schools

By Charlie Senack, Barrhaven Independent

Tonight the Ottawa Carleton District School Board will again debate bringing back a mask mandate as COVID-19 cases continue to rise. 

The motion, brought forward by River/Gloucester-Southgate Trustee Mark Fisher, aims to make masks again mandatory for anyone inside OCDSB buildings. 

Fisher said as a board, they are responsible for the well-being of 10,000 staff members and over 70,000 students. 

“Based on the COVID-19 situation in Ottawa and the impact it’s having on staff and students and keeping classrooms open, today I’ve given notice that I’ll introduce a motion, as soon as possible, to require masks in OCDSB buildings again,” the Trustee tweeted on Saturday. 

It’s not the first time a motion of this kind has come forward. Just before provincial mask mandates for schools were lifted on March 21, the public school board debated extending the safety measure. The motion failed in a tie vote, but trustees said they could again bring up the topic if the pandemic worsened. 

Since mask mandates were lifted, Ontario has seen a surge in cases, and an uptick in hospitalizations. The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) says they have seen a large increase in children being admitted to their emergency department with serious COVID-19 symptoms. 

Berrigan Elementary School in Barrhaven. (Charlie Senack Photo)

Barrhaven/Knoxdale-Merivale trustee Donna Blackburn was among those who voted against the mask mandate motion last time, and says she will do the same tonight. 

While Blackburn strongly encourages mask wearing and says she continues to wear hers, the Barrhaven trustee says the school board can’t enforce such a motion. 

“There is no way to enforce it if kids come to school without a mask, (because) we have a duty to educate,” Blackburn said March 14. “Many staff have written to me to say that they are tired of wearing the masks. We have a very high vaccination rate amongst our staff. I believe that we should have faith in both our students and staff to make the right decision.”

The Ottawa Carleton District School Board, like many other school boards across Ontario, wrote to the province, asking for mask mandates to be reinstated. On April 11, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Kieran Moore, said mask mandates would not be coming back. He too “strongly encouraged” Ontarians to keep their masks on when indoors. 

While there is no clear way to find out how many COVID-19 cases are being reported among students and staff in Ontario schools, the province does release daily absentee rates. 

While multiple Barrhaven schools were beginning to report an increased number of absentees last week, the numbers are beginning to decrease again. 

The OCDSB will debate the mask mandate motion tonight at 7:00 pm.  It can be watched here