Hamilton public school board says ‘nothing is off the table’ for a safe September

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Published August 14, 2021 at 3:07 am

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The chairwoman of the Hamilton public school board says vaccination mandates are up to Premier Doug Ford — but she welcomes “continued public debate” on the issue.

Dawn Danko, one of the leaders of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB), issued the statement on Friday, in response to a query from a Hamilton newspaper. It was issued in the course of a news day where the the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association urged mandatory vaccinations in schools in order to keep them as safe as possible. The HWDSB’s Toronto counterparts called for mandatory vaccines for staff, many of whom will be in crowded classrooms and common areas with unvaccinated children under 12 in about three weeks.

There were reports in the Toronto media on Friday that the province might be mandating vaccines for hospitals and long-term care workers, while remaining in Step 3 of the reopening plan. 

Proponents of vaccination mandates have emphasized it’s not a cure-all, but vaccination uptake needs to increase.

“The clear message that we’re hearing from public health is that additional steps need to be taken to get more people vaccinated; that’s our only way out of this pandemic as we enter the fourth wave,” ,” Danko stated.

“Our priority at HWDSB is to ensure that our schools and workplaces remain as safe as possible for students and staff.

“Nothing is off the table in terms of what we can do to advocate and raise the bar on our safety protocols. As trustees, we’re reviewing all protective measures that support safe and healthy environments.

“Mandating vaccinations for all eligible students, staff and visitors in our schools would require a policy change at the provincial level.”

Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce issued return-to-school guidelines on Aug. 3 and 4, and said ventilation would be improved inside classrooms. Ontario had 139 COVID-19 cases at that stage. It had 510 on Friday. Hamilton accounts for 10 per cent of the cases with 51.  

Ford has not had an open media availability since July 30. He initially refused to mandate vaccines in any setting.

The opposition New Democrats said in a release Friday that the ventilation announcement did not include any air quality testing or public reporting of the results for each classroom.

“Let’s take the guesswork out,” said Marit Stiles, the NDP’s education critic, adding, “If a classroom isn’t ventilated well enough, we shouldn’t be putting kids in it.”

Schools starts on Sept. 7. The Hamilton board meets next on Aug. 30, the Monday prior to Labour Day.

Danko said HWDSB will “continue to listen to public health officials, our staff, the community and families,” on the issue over the next two weeks. 

— with files from The Canadian Press

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