Hamilton school board, union urge province to vaccinate educators

·2 min read

Hamilton’s public board and the union representing its high school teachers have joined a chorus of voices urging the province to prioritize teacher vaccination against COVID-19.

Education workers, including teachers, school staff and child-care workers are part of the second phase of the immunization rollout, which is set to take place between April and July. Boards, associations, unions and advocacy groups are urging the government to vaccinate educators soon — rather than wait until the school year is over.

“Our concern for the safety and well-being of our members, and the students they teach, grows with every passing day,” Daryl Jerome, president of the local bargaining unit for the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, wrote in an April 1 letter. “We are calling on the provincial government and Hamilton Public Health to ensure that all education workers in HWDSB schools and sites be considered high risk and to allow them to receive their first vaccine immediately.”

In an March 30 letter, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board said a “disturbing” 20 to 24 per cent of staff absences in the week of March 22 were related to COVID-19.

“Education workers are being challenged like never before as they support the safety of students and staff in schools during a pandemic,” wrote board chair Dawn Danko. “We know how important schools are to our families, community and economy. But cracks are beginning to show.”

In March, Hamilton schools reported more than 300 cases of the virus, the vast majority in the last two weeks. This month’s numbers are more than double the previous record of 115 cases in December.

Nine Hamilton schools — three public, four Catholic and two French — are currently in outbreak. About half of the outbreaks are linked to variants of concern.

Nearly half of all Catholic schools — 21, as of April 4 — have at least one class or cohort closed.

Amid soaring cases across the province, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced on Thursday a four-week, provincewide shutdown, which went into effect on Saturday. The same day, Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced schools, which are “critical for children’s mental health and development,” would remain open.

“With the full support of Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, I am proud to confirm that schools remain open in this province,” he said in a video posted to Twitter.

In a March 26 letter, the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, which represents chairs of English public school boards, advocated for a “vaccination blitz” of teachers and support staff.

“This in turn helps keep students in the classroom,” wrote president Cathy Abraham.

The Toronto District School Board previously suggested that vaccination be offered during the delayed March break, which is set to take place from April 12 to 16.

Kate McCullough, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator