TDSB to move ahead with lifting mask mandate in schools after province declines request for extension

The Toronto District School Board is moving ahead with lifting the masking mandate at its schools next week after the province declined its request for additional time to remove COVID-19 measures.

Alexander Brown, the chair of the TDSB, wrote a letter to Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore, Minister of Education Stephen Lecce and Toronto Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa last week to ask that the scheduled lifting of masking in schools on March 21 be put on hold for an indeterminate period of time.

“To remove such measures like masking, distancing, cohorting and daily screening protections at the same time would go against our multiple layer approach to protecting our school communities from the spread of COVID-19,” Brown wrote.

In a post on its website on Thursday, the TDSB said the province “reiterated their previous direction” in response to the board’s letter. Meanwhile, Toronto Public Health repeated what Dr. de Villa had said last week that masking in schools is the responsibility of the province.

As a result, the board said it will be continuing with the implementation the changes announced by the province and lifting COVID-19 safety measures, including masking, as of March 21. While the board already notified parents about the changes before March Break, it was hoping that the province would give them addition time for removing the protocols.

The TDSB said that it will still strongly encourage wearing masks in its schools.

“TDSB schools will continue to be mask-friendly environments. Masks will still be available to both staff and students upon request. Classroom environments will be inclusive of all students,” the board said.

With the end of cohorting and physical distancing requirements, the TDSB said students will now be able to sit, work and play together.

“As schools move towards these more normal, pre-pandemic conditions, some activities such as extracurriculars and events, require a more thoughtful, phased-in approach in schools, as well as significant staff support. Please be patient as schools work to implement these changes in their local community,” the board said.

Earlier Thursday, the Ontario Science Table released its latest COVID-19 modelling, warning that hospital admissions could increase with the lifting of more restrictions, including the mask mandate.

Dr. Peter Jüni, the table’s scientific director, told CP24 that the public should take away a sense of measured caution from this latest projection.

“We don’t pretend the pandemic is over overnight and drop all of the masks like t-shirts on the beach, but just keep transitioning into more liberty over time. (We) slowly increase number of contacts, slowly stop using masks in various situations,” he said.

Last week, Premier Doug Ford discouraged school boards from seeking extensions to the lifting of the mask mandate later this month, saying that school trustees “aren’t medical experts” and should simply follow the advice of Ontario’s top health official.

– with files from Chris Fox