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Masks optional for students and staff once provincial mandate ends: TVDSB confirms

The largest school board in southwestern Ontario is leaving it up to parents to decide whether their toddler will wear a face covering when students return to class after March Break.

The Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) sent a letter to families on Friday afternoon informing them that the children will return to a “more typical learning environment” on March 21. This is the date when the provincial government will lift the mask mandate for most indoor public places, including schools.

“Thames Valley strongly encourages masking for students, but honors and respects personal and family choice. Masking will no longer be mandatory for students, staff and authorized visitors in schools, school board offices and on student transportation,” the letter to parents reads.

For those who choose to continue wearing face coverings, free face coverings will be provided, the council said.

The exception at the end of mandatory masking within the board, is for students returning from international travel. Under federal travel requirements, they must wear face coverings in public spaces and keep a list of all close contacts for 14 days after entering Canada.

Earlier this week Middlesex London Medical Officer of Health Dr Alex Summers said publicly that he would advise school boards in the area to recommend continued masking for pupils and staff.

“The impact of this masking is critical in limiting transmission in these settings,” Summers said.

However, he said he does not anticipate mandatory masking policies for schools being introduced by the health unit.

Other provincial guidelines that Thames Valley intends to follow after March Break are an end to cohorts and social distancing, indoors and outdoors, and limitations on in-person gatherings and assemblies. This sets the stage for proms and graduation ceremonies this spring.

Parents who drop off or pick up their children at before and after school programs will no longer be required to provide proof of vaccination to enter the building. There will also be no more restrictions on sports activities, music or singing in Thames Valley schools.

Daily confirmation on-site screening is waived, but students will still be required to complete the Department of Education’s COVID-19 screening test for schools and daycares before going to school or boarding the school bus .

“We recognize and respect that some families may feel uncomfortable with these changes to health and safety protocols, and we welcome and support personal and family choice,” the council said.

The few public health safety measures that will remain for the rest of the school year include thorough cleaning protocols, access to free rapid antigen tests and reporting absences. Additional HEPA filters will also be rolled out to schools and classrooms as they are sent to the board by the ministry.