By Jeff Morris
Ottawa Carleton District School Board trustees voted to extend its mask policy to include kindergarten students.
The decision was made at a meeting held Aug. 31.
The OCDSB was the last of Ottawa’s four school boards to pass a motion to extend the mask policy to kindergarten students. The Ottawa Catholic School Board, as well as the French public and French Catholic school boards had also passed similar motions.
Provincial regulations in place for COVID-19 only require masks to be worn by students from Grade 1 and up. Each school board, however, had the option to implement stricter mask policies. Ottawa Public Health supports the move to include kindergarten students in the mask policy.
Another motion that passed at the Aug. 31 OCDSB meeting was that all volunteers, including coaches, at OCDSB schools are to be fully vaccinated for the 2021-22 school year.
Trustee Lyra Evans had six motions on the table. In addition to the motions for extending masks to kindergarten and mandating that volunteers are fully vaccinated, there was also discussion of requiring all staff members at OCDSB schools to be fully vaccinated. Mandatory vaccines for students, a medical education policy for students, and the continued provision of medical-grade masks to staff members were not discussed.
Not Enough Time
The meeting ran until 11 p.m. After the designated end time, the board must vote to continue the meeting. Barrhaven-Knoxdale-Merivale Trustee Donna Blackburn voted against continuing the meeting.
The board had gone through the first round of voting for mandatory vaccination of staff members. However, after some wording adjustments and discussion, trustees ran out of time before a ratification vote could be held.
The draft marked Sept. 30 as the date in which the rules for the vaccination of staff members would be put in place. Exemptions for human rights, such as medical and religious reasons, would be put in place.
Blackburn defended her decision to end the meeting at 11 p.m.
“Had we continued, we would have been debating and making decisions at two in the morning,” she said. “This is not how decisions of this magnitude should be made. We have to do better as a board. Think of the parents. These are the most important decisions of the school year for them. Would they want people making these decisions at 2 a.m.?”
Another meeting is expected to be called tonight (Sept. 1)
The province requires all employees of publicly funded school boards to disclose their vaccination status by Sept. 7.
OCSB Guidelines in Place
The Ottawa Catholic School Board released its back to school policies a week earlier.
In addition to extending it masking policy to include kindergarten students, there were also a number of other issues addressed.
School assemblies will be held either outdoors or online. Field trips can be held but will be limited to outdoor venues, and no busing will be permitted. The school’s meet-the-teacher and school council meetings will also be held virtually.
Fully-vaccinated students who are exposed to someone who tests positive for COVID-19 do not need to self-isolate as long as they do not have symptoms and are not directed otherwise by Ottawa Public Health.
If a child is not vaccinated and is exposed to someone who tests positive for COVID-19 and is considered a high-risk contact, they will be required to isolate for ten days as directed by Ottawa Public Health. OCSB schools will work with Ottawa Public Health and follow their direction.
As per the Ministry of Education directive, all OCSB staff members are required to provide proof of complete vaccination against COVID-19 by September 7, or provide a documented medical reason for not being vaccinated against COVID-19, or be tested regularly and participate in a vaccination education program.
This requirement applies to all School Board employees, School Board Trustees, student transportation drivers, frequent essential visitors and other professionals who deliver school services. An individual’s vaccination status is private information and is not permitted to be disclosed.
By September 15th, all School Boards in Ontario will post on their websites non-identifying data indicating the percentage of staff across the School Board who have not been fully vaccinated.