Active school-related COVID-19 cases rise in Ont. as TDSB places staff members on leave over vaccination policy
Published Monday, November 22, 2021 7:58AM EST
Last Updated Monday, November 22, 2021 7:58AM EST
The number of known, active COVID-19 cases associated with the province’s publicly funded schools has risen to a level not seen in weeks today as Ontario’s largest school board places hundreds of staff members on administrative leave for failing to comply with its vaccination mandate.
Another 112 new school-related COVID-19 infections linked to Ontario’s publicly funded schools were confirmed today, up from the 86 new cases that were logged seven days ago.
The number of known, active infections linked to schools is now 1,265, marking a 23 per cent jump from last Monday when the province said there were 1,006 active school-related cases of the virus.
The Ministry of Education says nine schools are now closed due to outbreaks, up from just four one week ago. There have not been this many schools closed at one time since early October.
There are currently three schools closed in the GTHA due to COVID-19 outbreaks and 119 cohorts that are self-isolating.
Today’s uptick in school-related infections comes as the Toronto District School Board’s mandatory vaccination policy officially takes effect.
In a memo to parents, the TDSB confirmed that 330 staff members have been placed on “non-disciplinary administrative leave without pay” for failing to disclose their vaccination status.
“As we implement the procedure, it is important that there is minimal impact on students’ learning, well-being and safety,” the memo read.
“As part of this plan, we are relying on occasional/casual staff to fill in for these staff members but, like other school boards across Ontario, we are seeing lower levels of occasional/casual staff taking available jobs.”
The board said it has granted “temporary exemptions” to 290 staff members, including many who work as special needs assistants, designated early childhood educators, and lunchroom supervisors.
“These exemptions will only last until we are able to adequately fill these positions on a case-by-case basis,” the school board said.
Unvaccinated staff will be required to undertake rapid antigen testing three times a week.
“We know this is an incredibly challenging time for the staff impacted by this procedure, but we are doing all we can to ensure the health and safety of our students and staff,” the TDSB said.
Last week, Health Canada approved Pfizer’s pediatric COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, a development that is expected to soon help curb COVID-19 transmission in schools.
The province announced that it will open up vaccination appointments for children in that age cohort starting on Tuesday and Toronto Public Health previously confirmed that it will hold 390 school-based clinics in the initial vaccine rollout prior to the winter break.
Additionally, the ministry of education has said it will send every public school student home with multiple rapid antigen tests over the winter break to begin testing every three or four days starting on Dec. 23
The province has said this will help prevent infected students from returning to the classroom in January, though it should be noted that the program is voluntary and children who do not take the rapid tests will be allowed to return after the break.