December 1, 2022

By Nathan Sager

Published November 22, 2022 at 5:13 p.m

Public school students and staff in Hamilton’s largest school board are being told to wear masks as respiratory illnesses overwhelm hospitals in the city and province.

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

Hamilton Public Health data — and absenteeism data from the Ontario Ministry of Education, when it kept it — at stages throughout the 2 1/2-year COVID-19 pandemic showed a correlation between the effects of the pandemic and school absenteeism. Areas of Hamilton where a greater proportion of the population is racialized or low-income had more staff and students out of class. Dahab stressed during the meeting that the HWDSB should commit to ensuring that as many students as possible can go to school and make up for the loss of education. The latter, by the way, is to be expected

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

The Hamilton Public Council was the only one in Ontario to try to keep a mask mandate in place late last winter after Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, said it was no longer necessary. The Ontario Ministry of Education (MOE) also told the HWDSB that it must follow provincial direction. Lately, 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 another provincial ministry, began requiring masks in indoor academic settings two weeks ago.

Dahab explained in a Twitter thread on Tuesday afternoon that the mask requirement is provisional. She added that strengthening the language around masking is a temporary measure until council 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 message from HWDSB around masks has been passive,” Dahab wrote. “What this change means is an active attempt to increase compliance and the wearing of masks in schools.

” …I agree that this is not enough and that we need a full mandate. I undertake to present the same motion as soon as possible.”

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

At the provincial level, Moore recently said local mask mandates can only come from a public health unit. For example, on Nov. 10, health facilities in two areas bordering Hamilton, Brant County and Haldimand-Norfolk, advised wearing a mask “to protect against exposure to airborne and respiratory viruses in crowded spaces and indoors, especially when recovering from illness. or around vulnerable people.” That letter was sent to area parents, Catholic and public school boards.

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

Also Monday, Ward 7 Trustee Dawn Danko was re-elected to the position for a second term. Ward 3 Administrator Maria Felix Miller is the new vice president.

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