Mask Mandates: City Changes Rule and School Board Has No Power to Contest

As you may have heard, mask mandates in Ontario are coming to end on March 21 in almost all settings, and that includes City of Guelph facilities. City Hall confirmed as much today, and so did the Upper Grand District School Board who confirmed that masks will become optional in their schools after March Break, and that they have no power to change that even if parents want them to.

“We’re happy to be lifting most masking requirements across the City. This is another signal that we’ve done the work to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on our health system and community,” said Colleen Clack-Bush, deputy CAO of Public Services at the City.

In a statement on Thursday afternoon, the City of Guelph says that they will be lifting masking requirements in all City facilities including City Hall, recreation facilities, Sleeman Centre, River Run and Guelph Museums, but you will have to remain masked on Guelph Transit per provincial instructions.

“We do remind transit riders that masks are still required on buses as it is challenging to maintain two metres of distance,” added Clack-Bush. “We also ask people to be kind to each other and respect the choices of others to mask or not where there is an option such as in our facilities. Masking is a public health measure that continues to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community.”

In a separate email to members of the media, City of Guelph communications officer Katie Duncan said that masking will also be optional at city council meetings starting March 21, which is the next city council meeting date. All other conventions being used for the hybrid meeting format will remain in place for the time being though.

Meanwhile, parents are looking for reassurance that schools will still be a mask mandated zone will be disappointed with a statement from the Upper Grand District School Board today. “Following the province’s March 9 announcement, the UGDSB consulted with several parties to determine next steps and receive clarity on the board’s authority to mandate public health measures,” it said.

What’s the clarity? Even though the board passed their own separate resolution regarding masking in August 2020, they do not have the authority to prescribe their own public health measures separate from public health officials, especially if that advise is the opposite of what those officials are recommending.

“We know that the topic of masks can be a divisive one. We want to stress that students, staff and visitors are still welcome to wear masks in our schools, and this is their choice,” said Director of Education Peter Sovran and Board Chair Linda Busuttil in a join statement. “Masking indoors continues to be strongly encouraged. Staff will continue to be provided with personal protective equipment (PPE).

“We encourage all members of our school communities to treat others with kindness and respect with regards to their choice,” they added.

The University of Guelph previously announced that they will be leaving their current COVID restrictions in place, including masking and vaccine mandates, until the end of the winter semester. An update is expected mid-March.

On Wednesday, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore announced that as of March 21 all provincial mask mandates will be lifted with the exception of public transit, health care settings, long-term care homes and congregate care settings. Our own local Medical Officer of Health Dr. Nicola Mercer announced shortly after that she would lift her public health order regarding masking on March 21 too.

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