York Region District School Board calls for move to online learning, vaccination of teachers

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The York Region District School Board (YRDSB) says its public health unit ought to consider closing schools and shifting to online learning with COVID-19 case counts surging daily.

YRDSB says the decision to close schools to in-person learning rests with the local public unit or the Ford government and Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

A motion was passed at York Region’s board meeting on Tuesday that the Chair is authorized to advocate for the closure of schools by way of writing a letter to Lecce and York Region Public Health.

“In order to protect our staff, students, and community at large the York Region Public Health [must] consider a decision to close and move all schools to online learning in light of recommendations from other Public Health units across the province,” York Region’s board said in an email. 

The board is also requesting that teachers, administrators, caretakers, and other staff within the YRDSB be prioritized for vaccines “of urgency for their safety as frontline workers and to reduce or prevent the Board from closing more schools due to operational challenges.”

York Region issued a third statement on Wednesday saying it’s committed to keeping students in class.

“COVID-19 transmission in schools in York Region remains low and to date, all school closures experienced in York Region have been closed for operational reasons unrelated to outbreak reasons,” said a York Region spokesperson.

“As of Wednesday, April 7, 2021, York Region’s decision remains status quo: York Region Public Health continues to follow the provincial Reopening Framework prioritizing schools remain open throughout all levels, even during the province-wide ’emergency brake’ shutdown.”

There are currently 12 schools closed across the York Region Catholic District School Board and 13 schools part of YRDSB.

Toronto Public Health (TPH) issued a Section 22 order and made the announcement to close schools on Tuesday; one day after Peel Public Health became the first local health unit to recommend schools be closed for in-person learning due to COVID-19 concerns.

Similar to Peel Region, the order will be in place from April 7 to 18, which will bring students to the end of the April break.

Ontario’s teacher unions, meanwhile, are calling for more protection in schools against COVID-19 as a third wave surges across the province.

The unions held a news conference today calling for the mass vaccination of teachers and other school staff.

Union leaders also say that online learning should be adopted across the province until the safety of staff and students can be guaranteed.

The Education Minister has defended his stance on keeping students in class, announcing Wednesday that “schools remain safe with strong public health measures in place that have kept nearly 99 percent of schools in Ontario open.”

The province reported a startling increase in school-related COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, with 719 new infections – 571 of which affects students.

On Thursday that number dipped to 301 new school-related infections with 245 positive cases in students.

Premier Doug Ford announced a provincewide state of emergency and stay-at-home order that went into effect Thursday morning.

Schools will remain open for in-person learning unless decided otherwise by local public health units.

As a result, Lecce announced additional safety measures including mandatory cleaning of schools during the spring break, offering asymptomatic COVID-19 tests at assessment centres from April 12 to 18, refresher training on safety protocols, broadening mandatory screening requirements before entering schools, and encouraging outdoor education.