‘Ask’ mandate in Hamilton public schools for now, as masking urged


Published November 22, 2022 at 5:13 pm

Public school students and staff in the largest school board in Hamilton are being asked to mask, with respiratory illnesses buckling hospitals in the city and across the province.

Trustees on the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board voted nearly unanimously, 10-1, at their first meeting since the Oct. 24 election,
to ask all students and staff to wear masks. Spectators held up a blue and purple banner that read “Mandate Masks” as the motion, brought forth by Ward 2 trustee Sabreina Dahab, was introduced and debated. Ward 5 trustee Todd White seconded the motion. Ward 4 trustee Ray Mulholland cast the lone “no” vote.

Hamilton public health data — and absence data from the Ontario Ministry of Education, when it kept it — at stages across the 2½-year COVID-19 pandemic have shown a correlation between the effects of the pandemic and school absenteeism. Areas of Hamilton where a higher proportion of the population are racialized and or low-income had more staff and students out of the classroom. Dahab emphasized during the meeting that HWDSB should be committed to making sure as many students as possible can attend school and make up for education loss. The latter, incidentally, is expected to

“Equity means equitable access to a safe learning environment,” Dahab said.

The Hamilton public board was the only one in Ontario that attempted to keep a mask mandate late last winter after Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said it was no longer required. The Ontario Ministry of Education (MOE) also told HWDSB that it had to follow provincial direction. Of late, Moore has

But another major public school board in the province, Ottawa-Carleton, is debating a mask mandate. The University of Waterloo, which is under a different provincial ministry, began requiring masks in indoor academic settings two weeks ago.

Dahab explained in a Twitter thread on Tuesday afternoon that asking for mask-wearing is provisional. She added that firming up the language around masking is a temporary measure until board staff can report back on whether a mandate is feasible.

What this change means is an active attempt to increase compliance and mask wearing in schools.

“The current messaging from the HWDSB around masks has been passive,” Dahab wrote. “What this change means is an active attempt to increase compliance and mask wearing in schools.

” …I agree that this isn’t enough and that we need a full mandate. I’m committed to bringing forward the same motion at the earliest possible time.”

Some of the highest absence rates in Hamilton schools during the fifth wave of the pandemic — two waves ago — occurred in lower-city public schools.

At the provincial level, Moore has recently said local masking mandates may only come from a public health unit. For instance, on Nov. 10 the health units in two areas that border Hamilton, Brant County and Haldimand-Norfolk, advised wearing a mask “to protect against exposure to airborne and respiratory viruses in crowded and indoor spaces, especially when recovering from being sick or around vulnerable people.” That letter was sent to parents in the area Catholic and public school boards.

On Nov. 17, Moore appeared unmasked at an event sponsored by Toronto Life magazine. Health Minister Sylvia Jones said, subsequently, that masking was a personal decision.

Also Monday, Chair Dawn Danko, the Ward 7 trustee, was re-elected to that position for a second term. Ward 3 trustee Maria Felix Miller is the new vice-chair.

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