Parents call for temporary closure of Mississauga school following COVID-19 outbreak
Editor’s note: Some names have been changed to protect the privacy of children at the school
A recent COVID-19 outbreak at an elementary school in Mississauga has prompted public health officials to pledge further support, but some parents say that nothing short of a temporary closure will ease their fears.
“Parents have noticed issues with COVID-19 protocols. In September, we were very impressed, but then we saw things start relaxing,” says Nancy Smith*, a parent whose children attend Fairview Public School.
Smith says that she has asked Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, Peel Medical Officer of Health Dr. Lawrence Loh, the Peel chapter of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and her local city councillor to step in and work to close the school until January.
Smith wants the school’s administrators to reevaluate their cleaning, masking and physical distancing procedures.
“Our children are saying the bathrooms aren’t cleaned as regularly and that although masks are mandatory in the school, they’re not living up to it. Some children are refusing to wear them and nothing is being done. Children who refuse to put them on are still welcome in the school,” Smith alleges.
Smith also says that pick-up and drop-off areas are “chaotic,” adding that she’s seen parents ignore masking and distancing rules and recommendations without reprisal from school staff members.
“We want them to take the two weeks to reevaluate the cleaning protocols. We don’t want the school closed forever, but we want to see cleaning protocols in place.”
On Dec. 4, Stuti Jaggi-Vaid, the principal of Fairview, announced that “multiple cases of COVID-19 have recently been identified at [the] school.”
“Thankfully, risk for the rest of our school because of this situation remains low,” Jaggi-Vaid wrote in a letter to families.
In a statement, Peel Public Health (PPH) said that it’s aware of one individual who may have acquired COVID-19 at school rather than in the community. Public health also said that it’s aware of an outbreak at the Fairview Peel Lunch and After School Program (PLASP) daycare program located within the school.
PPH said an affected person may have acquired COVID-19 at PLASP.
Peel Public Health said the outbreaks are under investigation and that school-wide testing will be offered on Thursday, Dec. 10.
The region’s public health unit is not ruling out a complete (but temporary) closure of the entire school should testing show a large number of cases.
“Based on those findings, further actions to control spread, including possible school closure, will be determined,” PPH said in a statement.
“Furthermore, a Peel Public Health Nurse will visit the school on Dec. 15 to review infection prevention and control practices with the school administrator.”
A recent letter issued by Jaggi-Vaid indicates that following testing, staff and students who do not have COVID-19 symptoms and who have not been asked to self-isolate will be able to return to school on Friday, Dec. 11.
“Our building will remain open for students and staff. The school undergoes a thorough cleaning and sanitizing daily as part of our enhanced cleaning protocol, and an additional cleaning will take place in our gymnasium after the testing centre,” Jaggi-Vaid says in the letter.
“Our physical distancing and mask rules are also designed to help prevent spread and lower risk.”
Anne Jones*, who also has a child at the school, says a temporary closure is needed to address the spread of the novel coronavirus in the school.
“After they announced the outbreak, I thought they would close for a thorough cleaning, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. The school remains open and I’m worried about how the cleaning process is going,” Jones said, adding that her child told her that the bathrooms are not being thoroughly sanitized.
“I’ve told [my child] to wipe down every surface that they use.”
Jones, like Smith, says she would welcome a temporary closure to address issues with cleaning and crowding during drop-off and pick-up.
“I want [the school] to close temporarily. I’m in favour of keeping schools open, but it should have been closed [after the outbreak] to make sure everything is cleaned properly.”
Smith says that she has also raised concerns about teachers and students returning to class after possible exposures—something the ETFO recently addressed in a letter to Loh.
ETFO Peel (@ETFOPeel) December 9, 2020
“Daily we are made aware of cases that occur in our schools and, most recently, the outbreak at Fairview PS. I’m concerned that not all teachers who have contact with classes where there is a case have been told to self-isolate or been advised to get tested,” Gail Bannister-Clarke, president of the Peel chapter of the ETFO, wrote in an open letter posted on the Peel Elementary Teachers’ Local website.
In the Dec. 6 letter, Bannister-Clarke said that she learned that a teacher at a Brampton school was not asked to isolate after being in contact with a French immersion class with a known COVID-19 outbreak. On Dec. 9, however, Bannister-Clarke issued an update and correction, saying that while she had since learned that the teacher in question was directed to isolate, the union was still concerned that said teacher’s class was not asked to remain at home.
“We continue to have concerns about contact tracing and the availability and transparency of information being provided to members,” she wrote.
On Dec. 4, PPH introduced more stringent COVID-19 protocols to help curb spread within Peel schools. Effective Dec. 7, 2020, all children with at least one symptom of COVID-19—including very mild symptoms—must stay home and self-isolate. Household members, including siblings, also must self-isolate while the symptomatic child is awaiting test results.
“This will catch COVID-19 infections even sooner and help keep schools and child care open for all children,” Loh said in a letter to parents.
Smith, who says the school might be more at risk because it’s located in a dense neighbourhood with many condos and apartments, feels that her community is being ignored by Peel Public Health and the Peel District School Board (PDSB).
“My children have concerns. They can see that they’re not fully apart in the classrooms and they see kids not wearing masks properly. They say they see [staff] not properly washing down or wiping things,” Smith says.
While public health officials say that COVID-19 safety protocols are strong within schools, multiple outbreaks have been reported in Mississauga. According to Peel Public Health’s website, a total of 44 outbreaks have been declared at Peel (Brampton, Mississauga and Caledon) schools since September.
In a statement, the PDSB said that Fairview Public School currently has five active confirmed cases of COVID-19 and that three classes have been dismissed as a precautionary measure.
“The health and safety of our students and staff is our top priority. At this time, Peel Public Health has not directed a full school dismissal or any further precautionary measures. If this direction changes, we will follow the recommendation of Peel Public Health and inform families immediately of next steps,” Kayla Tishcoff, acting manager of communications and community relations at the board, said in an email to insauga.com.
Tishcoff says the school is currently following all of the board’s enhanced health and safety measures, including cleaning and sanitization of staff and student washrooms.
According to Tishcoff, all staff members and students are required to wear a mask while in the school building, except while eating. Kindergarten students are strongly encouraged to wear masks or face-coverings, but they are not required to do so.
“School staff work together with students, and if necessary, their families, to ensure that proper mask protocols are being followed at all times,” Tishcoff says.
“As with any school-related question or concern, we encourage families and staff to connect with the school principal directly so that their concerns can be addressed as quickly as possible.”
Smith says that more needs to be done to ensure staff and students are protected from the virus going forward.
“I want to be assured that our concerns are acknowledged. I’ve seen better face shields for sale than what teachers are wearing and I want to see them protected as well. I want to see a working relationship between parents and teachers and I’d like to see social distancing markers outside and people monitoring them. There should be staff members [out there] encouraging parents to be safe as well,” she says.
Jones says that she hopes the school can receive better ventilation as well.
“[One of] the main things is ventilation. My [child] says they have to keep the windows open, so that’s primary so that the children can stay warm and stay safe. It’s hard for children to wear snow pants to keep warm in class.”
Smith said she’s hoping PPH follows in the footsteps of other public health agencies such as Toronto Public Health and temporarily closes the school.
“Can’t they learn from what happened with Thorncliffe Park Public School in Toronto? That school is also across from condos and apartments,” Smith says, referring to the East York school that was temporarily closed after more than 20 cases were linked to the school.
“COVID protocols should be stricter here. It’s not a one-size-fits-all situation, you need to look at the neighbourhood. We all walk in our community, so social distancing is a huge problem. I think the school needs outside help, we want to make sure our kids are as safe as possible, we want to know measures are being taken. Our kids shouldn’t tell us that they don’t feel safe at school.”
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