Ontario school board to defy province and keep mask mandates, against government wishes

A southern Ontario school board is sticking to its plan to extend its mask mandate beyond the provincial one, even after the government instructed it to drop the public health measure.

In a statement released Friday evening, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board said it would enforce mask-wearing until April 1, despite the province lifting mandates in most indoor settings starting Monday.

“Supporting staff and families during this phased approach and time of transition is our priority. We are reminding staff and students to wear a mask until April 1 and to exercise their choice by completing the mask exemption process, if needed,” board chair Dawn Danko said in the statement.

She released the statement in response to a letter sent by Education Minister Stephen Lecce on Friday.

The government says the board has no legal authority to mandate masks in the absence of a directive from a public health unit.

In his letter, Lecce reiterated points made by the province’s top doctor.

“Ontario now has both the prevention and response tools necessary to manage the impact of COVID-19,” the letter reads, saying the province is now able to remove “many of the emergency measures that have been in place over the past two years.”

The letter noted that some public health measures will remain in schools, such as mandatory COVID-19 self-screening for staff and students, ventilation upgrades and enhanced air quality practices.

Earlier this week, Moore told boards that had requested an extension for mask mandates in schools that mandatory masking in schools will end Monday.

Premier Doug Ford also said earlier this month that boards would be expected to follow directions issued by Moore.

However, Danko said the school board has continued to update the Ministry of Education about its transition plan.

“We appreciate the ongoing collaboration and support from the Ministry of Education and Hamilton Public Health Services,” she said.

Several other boards requested extensions to the mask mandate, including the Toronto District School Board, Toronto’s Catholic school board and the Waterloo Region public school board.

On Friday, the Nova Scotia government announced it would keep mask mandates in place in public schools until at least mid-April instead of lifting the requirement in public schools on Monday, as it had planned initially.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 19, 2022.

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