Ottawa public school board resumes debate virtually on mandatory masks in schools

Ottawa’s public school board says debate on whether to require students, teachers and staff to wear masks at all schools and board facilities will resume virtually this evening, after there were “concerns about the safety” of trustees and the public during a public meeting earlier this week.

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board announced trustees will hold a public meeting on introducing a mask mandate at 6 p.m., and the public will be able to watch the meeting online. CTVNewsOttawa.ca will live stream the board meeting on this page.

Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth introduced a motion to reintroduce a mandatory mask policy for students, staff and teachers until Ottawa Public Health declares the influenza season has ended, CHEO’s pediatric ICU occupancy is less than 85 per cent for a period of two weeks, and the health unit no longer advises the public to wear a mask.

The board met for four hours on Tuesday evening, but the meeting was marred by interruptions and heckling from the crowd before trustees began debating the motion.  CHEO’s Dr. Lindy Samson was interrupted during a virtual presentation about the situation at the children’s hospital, and the crowd could be heard through the video of the meeting yelling at trustees and speakers.

Eventually, police were called to the Ottawa Carleton District School Board headquarters and the meeting room was emptied, with trustees continuing to meet virtually.

“The meeting was attended by over 150 members of the public, with many more watching online. Unfortunately, after repeated heckling, disruption and outbursts by the audience there were concerns about the safety of everyone present,” the board said in a statement.

“The meeting shifted to a virtual format and continued until 10:30 p.m.  At that time, it was decided to adjourn the meeting and continue on another day. In the interest of safety, the continuation meeting will be held virtually on November 24, 2022 at 6:00 p.m.”

Kaplan-Myrth said the crowd had a “sort of mob mentality”.

“They were chanting my name, they were hooting and hollering. That’s totally designed to be destructive,” Kaplan-Myrth said.

The public board says while public meetings are an “important part of the democratic process”, all participants “must feel respected by and be respectful of other participants” to be successful.

“Unfortunately, that was not the case on Tuesday evening and that is something that we all need to reflect upon,” the OCDSB said.

“Over the past two years, this community has experienced considerable uncertainty, adversity, and change.  People are feeling passionate, frustrated, anxious, and angry about a range of issues. As a result, we have seen more polarization on issues and a reduced capacity to listen to and learn from each other.Our commitment to promoting a culture of caring in our schools and broader community remains unchanged. This is built on a foundation of respect and responsibility to one another and appreciation that we all care deeply about the education of children.”

Both Ottawa Public Health and CHEO “strongly recommend” people wear masks indoors and in crowded public places in a bid to reduce transmission of the virus.

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board says it is strongly encouraging students and staff to wear masks in schools.  A survey of some OCDSB principals found less than 10 per cent of students are wearing masks in schools.

Some trustees hope the public board will shelve the motion for mandatory masks in schools.

“This divisiveness is not helpful to anybody,” Trustee Donna Blackburn said. “It’s my hope this motion will be withdrawn.”

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