A number of Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) parents and students are speaking out against a controversial motion by trustee Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth that would reimpose a mandatory mask mandate on students.

True North heard from several concerned parents and students in the last 48 hours. 

Parent Melanie Lefebvre, who has children attending Longfields-Davidson Heights Secondary School, told True North that she does not support mask mandates. She added that masks have harmed the mental and physical health of her kids. 

She wrote “my son who has been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder and Aspergers is exempt, yet he got harassed to put (a mask) on.” She said her son ultimately did not comply.

Lefebvre said the matter led to her choosing to keep her kids home “so they (could) breathe, and they could be shielded from the toxic environment.” The mother of three says her kids will not be complying with a new mask mandate if it is imposed by school board trustees.

Another parent, who asked to remain anonymous, also shared her strong opposition to mandatory masking. Her kids attend Robert Hopkins Public School and Henry Munro Middle School.

“Children need to be able to see the facial expressions and mouth movements of others to learn effectively and to properly develop empathy and other social skills,” wrote the parent.  

The parent also said that she believes “the drawbacks far outweigh the benefits” when it comes to masking children, and that given the strong debate and disagreement on the matter “individuals & families should be allowed to make their own decisions on masking. and should never be mandated to wear masks.” She says she has no intention to mask her kids if a mandate is imposed. 

True North also heard from a parent with a daughter who had been at John McCrae Secondary school, who said previous mask mandates were problematic. This mother also asked to remain anonymous.

“When the mandate was in place (my daughter) struggled wearing it for the full day.” She also said that the mandates “affected (my daughter’s) overall mental state” and caused her to hate school. 

She says her other daughter, who has now graduated, developed terrible acne while the mask mandates were in place, “which really affected her well-being.”

In addition to hearing from several other parents, True North heard from a Grade 11 student at Glebe Collegiate High School who says he and his classmates are against a mask mandate.

“Students don’t want to mask and masking creates an extremely toxic environment,” he said, citing arguments he witnessed between teachers and students over masks when the mandate was in place. He says the latter created an “extremely difficult environment to learn in.” He also claimed that students who did not wear masks were harassed.

The student also told True North that the last three years of harsh government Covid mandates, restrictions and school closures have been tough, describing it as “the darkest period in my life.”

“Lockdowns pretty much ruined my mental health, sitting in front of a screen was causing me major migraines,” he said, noting that he was unable to get any work done. “I couldn’t see any of my friends,” he added.  

The student says he and his friends will also not be complying with a new mask mandate. 

The debate over mandatory masks in OCDSB schools was reignited after newly elected school trustee Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth, known for her controversial social media posts and media appearances, put forward a mask mandate motion – amid what experts call a “tripledemic” of respiratory viruses – the seasonal flu, RSV and Covid-19. 

Dr. Kaplan-Myrth’s motion calls for a strict medical mask mandate to be imposed on all OCDSB students, educators and staff. 

The board held a special meeting on Tuesday to debate and vote on the motion, which was attended by a number of parents opposed to mandatory masking. Disruption, protest as well as debates on amendments led to the trustees running out of time and the meeting being adjourned. 

The special meeting is set to resume Thursday night at 6:00pm. However, parents will not be able to attend in person, with the board citing “the interest of safety.”

The OCDSB is not the only school board where trustees have attempted to reintroduce mask mandates. A motion was recently put before the Durham District School Board (DDSB) that would have asked the local public health unit to require masks in schools. The motion was rejected.

It should be noted that while Dr. Kaplan-Myrth says her mandate would be temporary, she has previously stated that she will continue to wear masks forever. 

True North reached out to Dr. Kaplan-Myrth for comment but she did not respond in time for publication.