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'Unacceptable': Local NDP MPPs react as province says mandatory masking will not return to schools this fall

The Education Minister has confirmed masking will remain optional in Ontario schools this September, continuing pandemic guidelines in place at the end of the last school year
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When kids head back to school this September, mandatory masking rules will not be returning with them.

The province has confirmed students and staff at all publicly-funded schools will not be required to wear a mask in class this fall.

"Our government's 'Plan to Catch Up' is designed to keep students in safe classrooms without disruption, which is why we followed the expert advice of Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health, as kids return to class this September," said Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce in a statement.

"The 'Plan to Catch Up' is focused on helping students get back on track, learn life and job skills, and enjoy the full return of clubs, sports, and extra curriculars -- critical for student physical and mental health," the statement continued. "That starts with being in class, on time, with the full school experience coupled with historic mental health and tutoring supports."

It's not enough though, according to a pair of local NDP MPPs who say the province's plan does little to protect students and staff.

"We have consistently argued for health and safety measures in our schools because we want our schools to stay open," said Waterloo MPP Catherine Fife. "So I think that this government has started off on the wrong foot with this masking policy, I don't think that it's grounded in good public health policy."

"Once again this memo put a stop to mandatory masking," added a statement from Kitchener-Centre MPP Laura Mae Lindo. "And once again, little to no steps were put in place to ensure students and education workers would be kept safe."

That however, isn't entirely accurate.

The memo -- which was sent to school boards last Friday -- does not put a stop to mandatory masking rules in Ontario schools. In fact, that policy came to an end, on the advice of the province's top doctor, last year as students returned from March Break.

The education minister also continued to tout investments aimed at enhancing ventilation.

"On the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, we have taken action by deploying over 100K standalone HEPA filter units to classrooms and learning spaces, enhanced cleaning, and continued access to rapid antigen tests," Lecce said. "Our government remains focused on providing students with a positive, safe, and normal school experience.”

"But I've already heard from teachers who've said, listen, I'm going to mask and I'm going to support the students in my classrooms who want to mask," said Fife. "Because obviously the education community as a whole recognizes that this is a very contentious issue."

The province, meantime, seeming to agree -- adding masks will continue to be made available to students, teachers, and other staff who wish to wear them.

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