The Toronto District School Board has extended its mandatory vaccination deadline for staff, adding three more weeks for its policy to be fully implemented.
Meanwhile, the Hamilton public board, west of Toronto, removed a requirement that its staff need to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 30.
The province has not mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for education workers, although individual school boards are permitted to do so. This has led to a patchwork of vaccine policies in schools.
The TDSB said last month that teachers and staff would need to have had two doses of COVID-19 vaccine by Nov. 1 – unless they received an accommodation – or face disciplinary action that could include the termination of their employment.
In a note from the TDSB shared in a trustee’s newsletter earlier this week, the board said it needed three additional weeks.
“This decision was based on feedback from system leaders, a longer than anticipated time required to review a significant number of requests for exemptions, and in order to ensure continuity in students’ learning and care and important business processes,” according to the note.
The weekly newsletter from trustee Shelley Laskin said that while some staff would be put on home assignment without pay in early November if they hadn’t submitted their vaccination status or twice-weekly rapid test results, “the full implementation will take place over the following three weeks.”
The TDSB did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
As of the end of last week, 85 per cent of TDSB staff said they were fully vaccinated, and five individuals received a medical exemption. About 1,700 staff members had yet to submit their vaccine status.
At the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, roughly 93 per cent of staff are fully vaccinated. Shawn McKillop, the board’s spokesman, said on Tuesday the board has removed a requirement that employees be fully vaccinated by Nov. 30. He said that it was a “result of the advice from experts and employee management groups.” Instead, unvaccinated staff will have to undergo rapid testing twice a week, he said.
The provincial government has asked school boards to have their employees disclose their vaccination status to the employer. School staff who are not fully vaccinated must provide verification of a negative rapid test twice a week.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce said during question period Tuesday that mandating vaccines in the education sector could potentially mean “terminating 50,000 workers in the education space.” It is unclear how many of these staff members have had one dose of the vaccine, or are occasional employees who have not reported to school boards this academic year.
“I think we have to be coupled by realism and ensure that any staff member who enters our school has a double test, a negative antigen test, to ensure they are safe, to ensure our schools could be staffed, and these kids can continue to go to school every day,” he said, responding to the NDP.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Lecce said 15 per cent of education workers have attested to not being fully vaccinated, including having medical reasons, or haven’t said either way. This includes teachers, principals, occasional staff and custodians.
Toronto parent and education advocate Sue Gowans said the government is avoiding its responsibility to keep children safe in schools. She said that a mandate would “motivate” staff to be vaccinated.
As for Mr. Lecce’s comments that thousands of school employees would lose their jobs, Ms. Gowans said, “I think it’s a scare tactic that is being used to excuse the government from mandating vaccines for the education sector.”
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.