Toronto Star

Unvaccinat­ed Catholic teachers face suspension

Staff who don’t comply with rapid testing to be barred from property


Unvaccinat­ed teachers at the Toronto Catholic board risk being suspended without pay if they do not participat­e in mandatory COVID-19 rapid tests and, starting Monday, noncomplia­nt employees will be barred from board property.

The move comes after the province required school board employees to be vaccinated or do rapid antigen testing twice a week and report negative results before entering any school or board facility.

At the Toronto Catholic District School Board, it’s unclear how many staff have not been doing the testing, which can be done at home with provided kits. But the board has issued letters warning people to comply — or prove they are fully vaccinated — otherwise they will be suspended without pay.

“Given the recent implementa­tion of these letters we cannot confirm the exact number (issued),” said TCDSB spokespers­on Shazia Vlahos. “Experience is showing that the majority of employees elect to comply with our policy.”

“Effective Monday, Oct. 18, 2021, non-compliant employees will face consequenc­es and will not be allowed to enter any TCDSB property until they demonstrat­e compliance,” she said in an email.

The board has been sending out regular reminders encouragin­g employees to disclose their vaccinatio­n status and follow non-vaccinatio­n requiremen­ts.

In the late summer, the province directed all publicly funded boards to implement a vaccinatio­n disclosure policy (which requires staff to prove they are fully vaccinated), provide a documented medical exemption or watch an educationa­l video on the vaccine’s benefits. These policies were fully implemente­d by Sept. 27, including testing requiremen­ts.

“Every unvaccinat­ed educator and staff member must complete rapid antigen tests twice a week, or else they are not allowed entry into Ontario’s schools,” said Caitlin Clark, spokespers­on for Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

“We expect absolute compliance on this directive, approved by the chief medical officer of health.”

At the TCDSB, there are 13,165 staff, including teachers, administra­tors, support staff. As of Sept. 30, about 76 per cent (9,992 people) attested to being fully vaccinated, nine per cent (1,166 people) were not and 15 per cent (2,007 people) had not yet responded. The board believes most who had not replied are causal staff and not actively working at the TCDSB, yet still appear on the staff roster.

Everyone who is not fully vaccinated or has not disclosed their vaccinatio­n status must undergo regular rapid testing.

The local union representi­ng Toronto’s Catholic elementary teachers says some members have already been suspended.

“Some reluctantl­y, or under duress, did comply after a day or two of being suspended without pay … Some are still home without pay,” said Julie Altomare-Di Nunzio, president of Toronto Elementary Catholic Teachers, which has more than 4,000 members. “It’s been very, very stressful (for these members).”

Reasons for not complying vary. Some believe testing infringes on their privacy rights, others worry about who can access test results, and a few are vaccinated but don’t want to disclose that.

Last week, Toronto’s Catholic board launched an app for staff to upload photos of negative test results and requested they submit previous tests. Prior to that, it couldn’t track who was doing testing. But the board realized some teachers were not because they didn’t pick up testing kits at school.

Pete McKay, head of the local union representi­ng Toronto’s Catholic high school teachers, knows half a dozen members who received letters from the board, giving them a few days to comply or they would be suspended without pay.

“Some are quick to comply when they realize the financial impact it would have on them. Others are more inclined to hold out as long as they can,” said the president of Toronto Secondary Unit, which has about 2,500 members. He doesn’t know anyone who was actually suspended.

“We’re never happy that a teacher would be without pay and wish there were a better way of handling this,” he said. “However, we have received legal advice that the policy is valid if implemente­d reasonably. Additional­ly, we want all workers to have a safe workplace and averting the spread of COVID-19 is of great concern.”

Monitoring teachers and test results is “unfortunat­e,” he said, but “if this helps maintain a safe workplace it could be beneficial.”

McKay is concerned that informatio­n on the app is being shared with principals and says the union is filing grievances alleging privacy violations over the attestatio­n and because the board provided testing kits to principals to distribute to teachers.

The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Associatio­n, the union representi­ng the province’s Catholic teachers, supports mandatory vaccinatio­ns for staff and students. But when it comes to any alleged noncomplia­nce of vaccinatio­n policies, it is legally required to represent members facing administra­tive suspension or disciplina­ry action. “The associatio­n reviews each case based on its facts to determine what, if any, action OECTA could take to defend Catholic teachermem­bers,” said Barb Dobrowolsk­i, president of OECTA.

Some school boards have gone beyond provincial requiremen­ts by mandating staff be fully vaccinated, including Toronto’s public board, OttawaCarl­eton District School Board and Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board. By Nov. 1, all staff at the Toronto District School Board must have their COVID jabs.

When the TCDSB was asked why it hadn’t made vaccines mandatory, it replied in an email that its reopening plan was developed with guidance from Toronto Public Health and the Ministry of Education.

“The health and safety of our students and staff has always guided the board’s return to school plan.”

Some (teachers) believe testing infringes on their privacy rights, others worry about who can access test results, and a few are vaccinated but don’t want to disclose that

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