Toronto Public Health has dismissed all classes at Thorncliffe Park Public School due to an ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.
In a letter sent to parents and guardians on Thursday, public health says the East York elementary school is being closed until December 10 and students and staff are to self-monitor for symptoms of coronavirus.
The decision comes after three of 30 staff members at the school refused to work on Thursday due to COVID-19 concerns.
Jennifer Brown, the president of the Elementary Teachers of Toronto, said the staff members were on site but remained in their cars. She said the teachers are “very concerned” for their safety.
Toronto District School Board spokesperson Ryan Bird said in a brief statement to CityNews that the classes were covered by “other non-core staff” at the school. He added that they were working with the Ministry of Labour to address their concerns.
The Ministry of Labour said health and safety inspectors visited the school and that their investigation is “ongoing.”
“The government’s top priority is ensuring the health and well being of students, teachers and support staff. The Ministry of Labour, Training Skills and Development’s neutral role is to ensure that workplaces are safe,” read a brief statement issued late Thursday afternoon.
There are currently 26 cases of COVID-19 among staff and students at the school.
Brown says 18 classes are in self-isolation including 27 teachers and 348 of the 750 students who are enrolled for in-person learning.
Brown wanted the school to be closed, calling on the provincial government and public health officials to be more proactive instead of reactive.
Education minister Stephen Lecce said the decision to close the school is in the hands of the local public health unit.
“That is the authority that should be making these decisions,” Lecce said. “In that case, Toronto Public Health, Dr. [Vinita] Dube, Dr. [Eileen] de Villa, have provided context for why the school remains open and they’re really best positioned to provide that scientific advice, not politicians.”
The education minister said he has full confidence in these public health officials to do what’s right.
Testing of asymptomatic students and staff at the school over two days last week led to the discovery of 19 positive cases of COVID-19 – 18 students and 1 staff member.
Principal Jeff Crane said 433 tests were conducted on a voluntary basis under a Ministry of Education pilot program to test students and staff without symptoms for COVID-19. Thorncliffe Park PS is the first school that is part of the program.
On Thursday, the province reported 122 new COVID-19 cases related to schools, including at least 94 among students.
That brings the number of schools with a reported case to 755 out of Ontario’s 4,828 publicly funded schools.