By Kirk Winter

The vaccination status of staff and students was hotly debated at the Aug. 24 Trillium Lakelands District School Board regular board meeting.

Senior staff drilled down with trustees the protocols that will be put in place with teaching staff who refuse to get vaccinated.

“Vaccinations for students and staff are not mandatory,” Director of Education, Wes Hahn, said. “Staff who remain unvaccinated must have a medical exemption and will be COVID tested on a regular basis.”

Trustee John Byrne wanted to know if staff who refuse vaccinations will have to participate in a vaccine education program. Byrne was told that board is waiting for direction from the Ministry of Education on that piece of the protocol, but he expects the answer will be yes.

Senior manager of human resources services, Tracy Hubbard, told trustees staff testing kits have already been delivered. She believes staff who refuse vaccinations will need to be tested once a week.

Trustee Steven Binstock asked Hubbard what would happen if a staff member refused to self-test. She said the board “will be ready for that contingency.”

Trustee Judy Saunders wanted to know if the board has the power to make vaccines mandatory for staff and students. Hahn was unsure and said senior staff would have to look into that.

Both local teachers’ unions are fully supportive of mandatory vaccinations in schools saying in a joint press release Aug. 18, “We believe that everyone working in, or attending a school who is eligible and can safely be vaccinated should be vaccinated.”

The unions qualified that any mandatory vaccination program must include provisions that ensure those who are unable to be vaccinated for medical or religious reasons receive the required employment accommodations and are not disadvantaged.

However, they said, “Individuals who are exempt for reasons due to statements of conscience, or are not vaccinated, must be required to take additional precautions for their own safety and that of those around them including regular testing, using additional PPE, ensuring distancing requirements are met and adhering to other safety protocols.”

Craig Horsley, president of District 15 of the OSSTF, added, “I would like to see as many layers of protection in place to keep staff and students safe … and vaccination is just one of those layers as well as proper ventilation, smaller class sizes, comprehensive cohorting and testing. The current board policy for vaccination disclosure aligns well with OSSTF on the topic.”

When asked how many teachers this new policy might affect, Horsely said due to privacy issues OSSTF does not have that information but, “generally speaking our members are no different than the public on what can be a very divisive topic, so I suspect the numbers will be similar to the general public but again I have no data to support that.”

Hahn also informed trustees that public health will be using secondary schools in TLDSB in September to host vaccine clinics.

“TLDSB is encouraging students to be vaccinated. It is clear that cases that are on the rise come from the unvaccinated,” Hahn said.”

We have to always be on guard. Cases could spike again despite the fact that we are feeling good locally. We want staff and students to be safe and kids to stay in the classroom.”

Hanh said the clinics will be run by the local health units and it will not be mandatory for unvaccinated students to attend.

“We simply want to provide students and others the opportunity for getting the vaccine,” Hahn said.

Smaller learn-at-home

The board’s Learn at Home program for 2021-2022 will be a shadow of the robust pandemic-bloated model that operated in 2020-2021.

Hahn said that as of Aug, 24, 327 elementary and 257 secondary students have registered in the virtual education program. This is a significant drop from the 2,000 who used Learn at Home as their primary vehicle for educational programming during 2020-2021.

Hahn made it clear again that due to concerns about staffing, once students have committed to Learn at Home they will likely have to finish at least the semester in that program.

“There might be some shifting in early September happening as we do our regular school reorganization, but after that the kids won’t be moving. Staffing this year will not allow it.”

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