Toronto’s public-school teachers and staff will need to have had two doses of COVID-19 vaccine by Nov. 1 or face disciplinary action that could include the termination of their employment.
Staff at the Toronto District School Board told trustees at a meeting on Tuesday that employees can submit a request for an accommodation or exemption, in which case they must be tested twice a week for COVID-19.
The vaccination policy from Canada’s largest school board comes as the more-transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus threatens to disrupt a third year of schooling and activities for students. Children under 12 are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, and just days into the academic year, Ontario is reporting 328 active cases in schools.
Audley Salmon, executive superintendent of employee services at the TDSB, said the board wanted to provide school staff with a “reasonable amount of time” to be fully vaccinated.
The TDSB policy document said the requirement applies to all school board employees, including supply teachers and casual education workers, as well as school board trustees and bus drivers.
“Individuals who fail to comply with this procedure may be subject to administrative or disciplinary action, up to and including termination from their employment,” the document said.
The TDSB policy said the board would consider requests for exemptions and “reasonable accommodation” under the human rights code.
“However, this duty to accommodate must be balanced against the board’s obligations to protect the health and safety of employees and students. Due to the serious health threat COVID-19 presents to the public, if an individual is not vaccinated because of a protected ground under the code, they can submit a request for an accommodation or exemption” for medical or religious reasons, according to the TDSB policy.
Trustees voted last month for the TDSB to require all staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and that staff would develop the policy. On Monday, trustees at Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board passed a motion that all employees be fully immunized by Nov. 30, unless they have exemptions or accommodations. Shawn McKillop, the board’s spokesman, said for employees who do not comply, “there would be a stepped approach to educate and reconsider.” Employees could also face discipline, he said.
Earlier this month, trustees at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board passed a motion that required all educators and staff to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine no later than Sept. 30 unless they have a medical or religious accommodation. Spokesman Darcy Knoll said in an e-mail that those with an approved exemption may be required to participate in a vaccine education program and undergo regular testing as required by the province.
He said staff who choose not to be vaccinated and don’t have an accommodation would face additional measures, including unpaid leave.
“Employees who are not vaccinated and who do not initiate the vaccine process by Sept. 30 will be subject to additional employment conditions/restrictions which may include being placed on a leave without pay,” Mr. Knoll said.
The province has not mandated inoculation for education workers, although individual school boards are permitted to do so.
The provincial government has instead asked school boards to have their employees disclose their vaccination status to the employer. In a memo sent to education directors on Monday, deputy education minister Nancy Naylor wrote that school staff who are not fully vaccinated must provide verification of a negative test twice a week. The schools will distribute rapid test kits to be used at home not more than 48 hours before coming to work, Ms. Naylor wrote. As school boards wait for their supplies, the government also temporarily authorized pharmacies to provide rapid tests to school staff.
Regina Bateson, a mom of three in Ottawa, said she was frustrated that the province has been absent in requiring vaccination for those who work in schools, especially because children under 12 are not yet eligible for COVID-19 shots. “I was surprised by the amount of decision-making on these key policies that have been foisted on school boards,” she said.
Ms. Bateson said that while she was pleased her school board trustees require vaccination, she said decisions should have been made much earlier so that the requirement would be in place for the start of the academic year. “It would have been much better to have this all in place now,” she said.
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.