Local school boards, Brock, Niagara College, Niagara Police, promote safe spaces

Brock University has enrolled some 4000 new and 19,000 total students for the fall term, and welcomed some 2600 students last weekend who were moving into expanded residence facilities on campus. They won’t be required to a wear mask in their dorms, but classrooms are a different story.

According to interim President Lynn Wells, the university’s decision to implement a limited masking policy for faculty, staff, students, and visitors is a moderate and reasonable approach, made in conjunction with Niagara Public Health. Medical-grade masks will be mandatory in all instructional spaces including classrooms, labs, and lecture halls.

Brock instituted a vaccination mandate prior to the 2021 school year, but has not made full vaccination a requirement for this fall (although vaccinations are encouraged for all by the university). GO-VAXX mobile clinics are likely to be a regular occurrence at the university, especially if Covid-19 has a predicted surge this fall.

As an added precaution, Brock has installed high-performance, surgical-grade filters and air purifiers in classrooms, labs, and social spaces across its campus in an effort to scrub the air for viral particles. All persons on campus are encouraged to complete a Covid-19 self-assessment prior to arrival, and self-monitor for symptoms.

Other post-secondary institutions have made pandemic-based health and safety decisions similar to Brock’s, but Western University in London has upped the ante by requiring that all students and employees be fully vaccinated as well as masked, which has sparked protest and pushback. A Canadian Press report said that an “Enough is Enough” Instagram page opposed to Western’s policy had garnered some 6000 followers.

In early September, Western rethought its position, and gave students an extra three months, until January 9, to get a booster in the wake of Health Canada’s approval of a vaccine specifically targeting the Omicron variant.

Niagara College has taken an identical approach to that of Brock.

Michael Wales, Director of Communications at Niagara, told the Voice that “in line with current provincial and local public health directives, our mandatory mask and vaccine policies were suspended in July. While no longer mandatory, we still encourage masking on our campuses, and masks will still be required in some academic settings. We also encourage students and employees to get vaccinated and stay up to date with their vaccinations. We continue to actively monitor Covid trends and provincial and local public health mandates and directives, and we will adapt our operations and on-campus policies as needed should conditions or government direction change.”

The website for the District School Board of Niagara (DSBN) indicates that most health and safety requirements remain unchanged from the end of the previous school year. Schools will continue to post and use hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette signage, and will encourage regular hand-washing and hand sanitizer use multiple times throughout the day. Masks will remain optional for students, staff and visitors, both in schools and on school buses. Free high-quality masks will be provided to those who request them.

The DSBN encourages daily screening for students, staff and visitors, and has provided HEPA filter air purifying units in all occupied learning spaces without mechanical ventilation.

The Niagara Catholic Board has adopted essentially the same approach as the DSBN, stressing hand hygiene, optional masking, daily screening, and enhanced ventilation and HEPA filters in classrooms.

The board’s communications officer, Jennifer Pellegrini, told the Voice that, “We will follow all provincial and local guidance regarding Covid protocols, and will continue with programs such as enhanced cleaning in our schools throughout the year. We encourage parents and community members to visit our website for more detailed information. The mental health and well-being of students returning to school continues to be a priority, and our mental health team will continue to work in partnership with School Mental Health Ontario and agency partners in Niagara to get students the support they need.”

Ridley College, which draws day students from across Niagara and boarding students from dozens of countries worldwide, strongly encourages, but does not require, full vaccination, and has made masking optional.

In keeping with federal guidelines, if fully vaccinated international students test positive for Covid-19 upon arrival in Canada, they must isolate for ten days. If an individual is unvaccinated, they are required to isolate for 14 days.

With the commencement of school, and student safety top-of-mind, the Niagara Regional Police Service has issued a reminder that all motorists and cyclists must stop and yield at pedestrian crosswalks, and obey all crossing guards. In accordance with the Ontario Highway Safety Act, a crosswalk must be empty of both pedestrians and the school crossing guard before vehicles proceed, and speed limits must be strictly adhered to in school zones.

Fines of up to $1000 plus four demerit points can be issued for failing to yield at a pedestrian crosswalk or school crossing, and an additional charge of careless driving can be given for aggressive or careless drivers, which can result in even higher fines and demerit points, license suspension, and up to six months in jail.