The Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) is strongly recommending staff and students wear masks indoors.
The board made the announcement on Friday, followed by direct emails to parents on Wednesday.
According to Bill Lemon, superintendent of student achievement and wellbeing at WRDSB, the board is trying to align with a local public health message from April 11. In that message Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang encouraged residents to use multiple layers of protection during the period of increased risk.
“The language that she chose to use was strongly recommended, we felt that being in alignment with her was the best position for us to take,” Lemon said.
Students who want a mask can still get one at school.
“We support the decision that the family has made and that the individual student is making at the moment,” Lemon said.
The board is still dealing with absenteeism due to the spread of the virus, but Lemon said it is still manageable.
LAWYER SAYS BOARD COULD DO MORE
According to Jacob Shelley, an associate professor with Western University’s Law & School of Health Studies, making a recommendation isn’t enough. Shelley said the board could do more, as the Education Act gives school boards the authority to enact policies to promote student and staff wellbeing.
“There are many policies in schools [for which] strong recommendations would kind of be laughable, like to strongly recommend that we not bring in allergens,” Jacob Shelley, an associate professor with Western University’s Law & School of Health Studies said.
“They have the authority to enact masking legislation, and it would be far better for school boards to take the chance that they may be challenged and be wrong, but have acted to protect the health of students which is their mandate, rather than to do nothing and students get harmed.”
In a statement to CTV Kitchener, the Minister of Education said, “We believe that medical doctors, not school board officials or teacher unions, should make public health decisions. Every student in every school board in Ontario retains the choice to wear a mask, and that policy will be universally respected, as recommended by the chief medical officer of health.”
Local public health officials said they will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation and will work with school boards to help students stay in the classroom as safely as possible.