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Ontario education minister 'respects' parents' mask choices at schools as some boards enforce mandates

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Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce said he “respects the choices of parents” when it comes to masking in schools, even as some boards independently vote in favour of mandates.

“We're going to respect the choices of parents. And I think that is really critical," Lecce said while taking questions from reporters Thursday morning.

"We follow the advice of Dr. Moore, and he's made clear a strong recommendation encouraging masks and the government is committed to keeping kids in school,” Lecce said after announcing the expansion of the province’s dual credit stream in Toronto. The program will allow more than 2,000 students to earn college credits while in high school.

Instead of a province-wide mask advisory, Lecce said public health units have the power to implement additional measures on their own if required.

“We'll always defer to doctors, not politicians, to make decisions with respect to the safety of families as we deal with the triple threat of RSV, flu and COVID.”

Discussions on masking have mounted in recent weeks as that triple threat has overwhelmed pediatric hospitals across the province.

In response, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore “strongly” recommended the use of masks in Ontario last week. He extended that recommendation to schools but stopped short of enforcing a mandate.

Since then, some Ontario institutions have taken matters into their own hands.

Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) passed a motion on Wednesday to ask students and staff to wear a mask in all public school board buildings.

“The influenza season started early this year with a combination of concerns including flu, COVID-19, and Respiratory Syncytial VIRUS (RSV). During this time of increased respiratory illness, we are providing guidance to protect each other, yourself and students,” HWDSB director of education Sheryl Robinson Petrazzini wrote in a message to families on Wednesday.

In Burlington, municipal employees are required to wear masks for the next six weeks as the city faces a “perfect storm” of illnesses in the community and among city staff.

A day earlier, Durham District School Board trustees voted against a directive that would have asked the region’s health department to require masking in schools.

A mask mandate vote is still pending with trustees at Ottawa’s largest school board after a meeting on Tuesday night was disrupted by cheering, screaming and some members of the audience being escorted out by police. 

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