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Hamilton Wentworth District School Board defied Ford over masks

Michele McAuley

March 29, 2022

Hamilton Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) voted on March 15 to continue to require students and staff to mask until April 1, in defiance of the provincial direction from the Ford government to lift mandatory masking March 21.  

The Ford government’s decision to lift the mask mandate falls directly after March Break which worried many given the history of COVID resurges. HWDSB’s reasoning was explained in a letter to families “to provide a two-week transition period to mitigate the spread of COVID after March Break” and “By remaining cautious and taking a strategic, gradual approach, we hope to best support our medically-vulnerable students and community members during this time of transition.” 

This was deemed prudent and cautious by many in the community and applauded as true leadership publicly by some parents and medical leaders. Many others disagreed, reflecting the divisiveness and confusion created by the provincial government over the past two years.

The next day, Ontario Premier Doug Ford spoke at a news conference in Barrie and told School Boards to “Follow the direction of the chief medical officer, plain and simple” and continued “they aren’t medical experts – the chief medical officer is the expert.”  

The problem with that statement is that he’s referring to only one expert – Dr. Kieran Moore – who was put in place by the Ford government in June, 2021. Dr. Moore’s direction to lift masks March 21 favored the Ford government’s desire to appease voters in the upcoming June election, but went against advice of McMaster Children’s Hospital, other leading pediatric health organizations and key members of the scientific community such as Dr. Peter Juni and Dr. Menaka Pai, who have said it’s too soon to remove masks.

Nurses in this province are exhausted, burnt out and leaving the profession in droves; nursing programs can’t attract students; the nurses who have stayed continue to work to save our lives despite the incredible toll their job takes on them.  

Instead of showing any support for them, or for families who have locked down for the majority of the past two years, Ford demonstrates yet again that he really only cares about impressing his corporate friends who demand “business as usual” and his base. Community is a word they don’t truly understand and only pretend at. 

Education Minister, Stephen Lecce also continued to stay in lock-step with Ford, stating “School boards in this province are expected to implement this cautious plan, coupled with the ongoing improvement of air ventilation within Ontario classrooms.” That statement begs questions. How is it cautious to remove masks in schools, the day everyone returns from March Break? Why is the improvement of air ventilation in Ontario classrooms “ongoing” rather than done, already? Where is the sense of urgency with this government? Evidently, their focus is completely absorbed in the race to secure the votes necessary to win the election in June.

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