TORONTO — Teachers and staff with the Toronto District School Board who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 1 could lose their jobs as the board becomes the latest employer to take a hard line on immunization rules.
The school board in Canada's most populous city has published its staff vaccination policy, which goes further than minimum guidelines set by the province.
"While we recognize that deciding to be vaccinated is deeply personal ... we have strived to balance acknowledging that fact with doing our utmost to ensure the health and safety of our students and staff," Colleen Russell-Rawlins, the board's director of education, said in a statement Tuesday night.
"By reducing the number of positive COVID-19 cases introduced to our schools, we are better able to protect our school communities and ensure fewer disruptions to student learning and well-being."
The board said 83 per cent of its 40,000 staff members are currently vaccinated against the virus. It said 94 per cent of staff had disclosed vaccination information, as required by Sept. 7.
The TDSB's rules apply to employees, trustees, bus drivers and others who come in direct contact with staff and students in the workplace.
They also cover people on educational placements, internships or apprenticeships programs, volunteers, contractors, workers providing services to children at school like health professionals and after-school program administrators.
The policy states that people must have received both shots by Nov. 1. New employees must be fully vaccinated before their first day of work.
Exemptions on human rights grounds will be considered but the board said it would balance its duty to accommodate against its obligations to protect staff and students' health. Those who are exempt will have to continue taking rapid COVID-19 tests at least twice a week, a rule that's currently in place for unvaccinated staff.
Failure to comply with the policy or giving false statements about being vaccinated could lead to termination from employment.
Provincial data published Wednesday said 299 schools in Ontario – or six per cent – had a reported case of COVID-19.
Public health officials in Windsor, Ont., said Wednesday a high school there would be closed until further notice after five cases were confirmed. All children, staff and visitors who attended St. Joseph High School between Tuesday and Thursday of last week were also instructed to get tested for the virus.
School boards in Ontario have until Sept. 27 to implement COVID-19 vaccination policies for staff under provincial rules.
The government has said employers in settings considered high-risk for COVID-19, including schools and hospitals, need to at minimum have workers immunized against the virus or regularly tested for it before coming to work.
Several large hospitals, long-term care home operators and other employers have since said they will make vaccination a condition of employment.
On Wednesday, a group of 15 not-for-profit and municipal long-term care homes said they would make vaccination a requirement for new and existing staff over the next several weeks.
The group representing homes in several Ontario cities, including Toronto, Barrie, Cambridge and Waterloo, called on the province to make vaccinations mandatory for their sector.
In a statement, AdvantAge Ontario – which represents the group – said it was considering a pooled legal fund in the event of legal challenges, which it argued are more like to happen without a provincial standard for mandatory shots.
"Our members are not deep-pocketed corporations," said AdvantAge CEO Lisa Levin said. "It’s deeply frustrating that government is putting not-for profit homes in a position where they may have to spend money on lawyers, rather than the people they care for."
Ontario reported 593 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and four more deaths linked to the virus.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 15, 2021.
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press