TDSB teachers pen open letter calling for asymptomatic testing, school closures through early January

By Lucas Casaletto

The Ontario Secondary School Teacher’s Federation (OSSTF) has sent an open letter to Ontario’s government and Toronto Public Health “calling for extended asymptomatic COVID-19 testing and for schools to remain closed for the first two weeks of January.”

This comes after the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) announced that Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute in North York will be closed until January due to COVID-19 cases.

“The current pilot project of school-based, voluntary COVID-19 testing for asymptomatic cases has focused and clarified the COVID-19 picture in some select schools in Toronto, resulting in the closure of two Toronto District School Board elementary schools to date,” OSSTF said in a statement.

“On behalf of all Teachers and Education Workers at the Toronto District School Board, we are calling on the Ontario Ministers of Education and Health, Toronto Public Health and the Toronto District School Board to extend this pilot project in order to assess the prevalence of asymptomatic COVID-19 cases in schools across the City on a regular and ongoing basis.” 

Teachers and education workers are also calling on the government and health officials in the city to move all schools to online learning beginning January 4, for at least the first two weeks after New Years’ Day.

In the letter, signed and approved by several high-ranking school officials, they said the extended break will also allow for “regular, ongoing, school-based, voluntary asymptomatic testing of students and staff when the schools do reopen.”

RELATED: Asymptomatic COVID-19 testing program underway at Toronto schools

“Premier [Doug] Ford repeatedly says his Government will do everything in its power to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, yet so far his government has refused to provide adequate funding to reduce elementary school classes to accomplish safe physical distancing, refused to provide timely or adequate funding for the upgrade of school air exchange systems, and has not provided adequate resources for contact tracing,” the OSSTF added.

“We are calling on him to take these two actions to ensure a safer start to the New Year.”

In a statement provided to 680 NEWS, the office of education minister Stephen Lecce says the risk of COVID-19 transmission is in the community – not across Ontario’s many schools.

“The Chief Medical Officer of Health has been clear – Ontario schools remain safe places to learn – with four out of five schools in this province having no active cases of COVID-19 at all and 99.9 percent of all Ontario students do not have an active case,” Caitlin Clark, minister Lecce’s spokesperson, said.

“Our government believes it is so important for our students to continue to go to school. While all provinces contend with the rising community-based transmission, the best medical experts have made clear that cases are overwhelmingly not being transmitted within our schools – the risk remains from our community.”

On Nov. 18, Lecce announced that there would be no extended holiday break across the province’s school boards citing the Ford government’s ‘strong safety protocols.’

“That is precisely why our government introduced tough restrictions, lockdowns, and limits on social bubbles to stem the tide of rising community transmission from the community and to keep our schools open for our students,” Clark added.

There are two other schools in the TDSB that have closed due to COVID-19 cases. Thorncliffe Park Public School has reported 29 cases of COVID-19 among students and two among staff. A total of 17 are considered resolved.

Fraser Mustard Early Learning Academy has reported seven cases of COVID-19 amongst students. One is considered resolved.

On Monday, Toronto and Peel’s Public Health units updated their screening tools, laying out increasingly strict protocols for when parents need to keep their children home from school.

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