Trustees pass indoor masking requirement for Thames Valley District School Board – London
The Thames Valley District School Board board voted Tuesday night to implement a masking requirement for indoor spaces, but TVDSB legal counsel noted that such a requirement is not enforceable.
Administrator Corrine Rahman’s motion was originally brought forward at a special meeting held last Tuesday in response to the growing number of sickness-related staff absences in Thames Valley.
During that meeting, the trustees voted the motion out of order after trustee Meagan Ruddock raised concerns that the group lacked the authority to pass such a motion, meaning the Rahman’s motion could not be voted on.
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The board convened for another special meeting on Tuesday, and board chair Lori-Ann Pizzolato informed the group that there may have been an error in the count during the vote, which ruled Rahman’s motion out of order.
The vote was taken again, with the trustees instead voting that Rahman’s motion was in order, setting the stage for another round of debate on the matter.
The motion requires staff, students and visitors to wear a mask in all TVDSB buildings “until Public Health Ontario updates these guidelines or local TVDSB public health units explicitly advise otherwise.” .
“Students will not be required to submit medical documents for exemptions,” the motion added.
Rahman began his remarks by telling his colleagues that the motion falls within the authority of the board of trustees as it falls under their obligation to ensure student success and well-being.
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“Do you not agree that keeping schools open, properly staffed and providing a safe learning environment is part of our legal obligation?” Rahman said.
At last week’s meeting, TVDSB director of education Mark Fisher told trustees the board was ‘north of 1,000 total absences, or about 10% of all of our staff’ , adding that the board was significantly challenged by the number of vacancies.
On Tuesday, TVDSB associate director Jeff Pratt told administrators that the number of vacancies was trending down.
“I’m not minimizing the operational challenges that still exist in schools, but the numbers are better than they were a week ago. I don’t have the exact number of absences at this time,” Pratt said.
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Ruddock reiterated his argument from last week that the motion was outside the trustee’s authority and added that public health units and the province have not mandated masking in schools, although they have the power to do so.
Trustee Sean Hunt, another opponent of the motion, said he believed the move would conflict with Department for Education guidelines, adding he did not believe it was binding.
Asked by student administrator Harini Satheeskumar what direction to give to staff regarding the enforcement of the masking requirement, Fisher said the TVDSB would need “a few days to determine the next steps”.
“I know that in Hamilton, where this motion was recently passed, it’s basically a verbal exemption for any staff member or student who wishes to opt out of wearing a mask,” the director of education said. .
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TVDSB General Counsel Ali Chahbar added that a mask requirement is not enforceable.
“Board, you are well within your rights to pass a motion mandating masks, but the issue of enforceability is another matter,” Chahbar said.
“When the Ontario government decided to lift this mask requirement effective March 21 of this year, the end result was that it served to remove the enforcement mechanism that existed.”
After more than an hour of debate on the matter, the trustees voted 7-5 in favor of Rahman’s motion to implement a masking requirement for TVDSB interior spaces.
Those in favor included Rahman, Pizzolato, Trustee Sherri Moore, Vice Chairman Peter Cuddy, Trustee Laura Gonzalez, Trustee Carol Antone and Trustee Sheri Polhill.
Opposing votes came from Ruddock, Hunt, Administrator Arlene Morell, Administrator Graham Hart and Administrator Bruce Smith.
Administrator Barb Yeoman did not participate in Tuesday’s vote.
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