No mask mandate for Ottawa’s largest school board, trustees vote

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dated: 2022-11-25 08:28:57 .

Trustees of Ottawa’s largest school board voted not to make masks mandatory in their schools during a split session Thursday night.

The twelve-vote committee voted six to six for the proposal, which was introduced Tuesday by new commissioner Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth, was introduced and ultimately failed.

The proposal requires students to wear masks to all activities at Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) schools, except when students are participating in music and other performing arts or sports, when they cannot be worn. The rule would not apply even during a lunch or snack break.

The filing signals recent increases in COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are struggling to keep up in area intensive care units and at CHEO, Ottawa’s Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

It also cites strong recommendations from local health authorities and Dr. Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Kieran Moore to wear a mask indoors.

Trustees voting for tenure were: Alysha Aziz, Justine Bell, Cathryne Milburn, Amanda Presley, Lyra Evans and Kaplan-Myrth.

Trustees who voted against were: Donna Blackburn, Donna Dickson, Jennifer Jennekens, Matthew Lee, Suzanne Nash and Lynn Scott.

The board adjourned the vote on Tuesday night after a dramatic special session during which security forces and police removed some people for disruptive behaviour.

OCDSB Executive Director Lyra Evans repeatedly reprimanded parents and other members of the public for inappropriate yelling and cheering throughout the evening.

Twice, Evans made abrupt pauses during which security guards and police escorted people out.

Commissioner divided, application questionable

After hours of tweaking the proposal line by line, it was clear that commissioners were divided on where they stood on the controversial proposal — citing community feedback and opposition they’d received on both sides of the mandatory masking issue.

The amended proposal included exceptions for anyone “for whom the mask would present a hardship,” and people not wearing a mask would not be suspended or disciplined. Teachers are not expected to “take further action to enforce masking,” the audits said.

Some commissioners began to doubt the relevance of such a loose mandate.

“This is no longer a mandate,” Commissioner Lee said. “[The motion] it’s not enforceable… and really has no use when it comes to getting responses from the entire population.

Blackburn echoed this view and urged her colleagues to reject the request.

“We have caused all this unrest and excitement in our community,” she said, adding that it is the responsibility of public health officials to mandate masks. “You don’t choose to use that power and there’s a reason for that.”

dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth is a general practitioner in the Glebe area and was recently elected board manager of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. She submitted an application for a vote on mandatory masks in schools. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

On the other hand, Evans urged her colleagues to vote on the proposal.

“I consider this proposal to be prudent … a reasonable compromise,” she said. “This proposal has the potential to make good. We’ve heard several times that every little bit helps.”

In her closing remarks, Kaplan-Myrth predicted the proposal would fail, but urged her colleagues to consider the city’s vulnerable population.

“Sometimes you have to do the hard thing,” she said. “We must do what is difficult for the most vulnerable people in our community, even if we lose the support of some people.”

Students are weighed

Two student curators, whose votes are not officially counted, voted against the mandate of the mask. They said their colleagues were concerned about the “very vague” wording of the mandate.

“It’s just a strong recommendation,” said student Tabarak Al-Delaimi. “To present this as a mandate … will cause an incredible amount of confusion and unnecessary conflict.”

“After several months of virtually no action, the sudden return is bound to create tensions — tensions between students, those who comply and those who don’t. Tensions between students and staff,” added student Antong Hou.

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No mask mandate for Ottawa’s largest school board, trustees vote

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