TORONTO — Canada's largest school board is giving staff more time to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as long as they disclose their immunization status.
The Toronto District School Board's mandatory vaccination policy had previously set a Nov. 1 deadline for employees to be fully vaccinated or risk losing their jobs.
A board spokesman said Wednesday that staff who haven't disclosed their vaccination status by that date will be placed on unpaid leave but those who've said they're unvaccinated or have only one shot now have until Nov. 21 to get their jabs.
Ryan Bird said the board is taking the gradual approach to ensure it can address any staffing "shortfalls" that result from the policy. He also said the change gives the board more time to review requests for exemptions on medical or religious grounds.
"We will continue to work with staff to support them in this process and do our best to avoid any unnecessary service impacts for students, staff and community members," Bird said in a written statement.
The Toronto board's policy takes a harder line on immunizations than the minimum standards set by the province, which require unvaccinated school staff to get tested for the virus twice a week.
TDSB staff who get their first shot by Nov. 19 will have another month to get their second shot, and those whose exemption requests are denied will have 45 days to get vaccinated or be placed on leave.
Failing to comply with the policy, which applies to 39,845 workers, could lead to termination but the board hasn't yet said when that will happen.
The board has reported that as of Oct. 22, 85 per cent of all staff – or 33,917 people – had attested being fully vaccinated. Five people in total had approved medical exemptions as of that date and 1,740 people hadn't filled out the board's disclosure form.
The Progressive Conservative government has so far resisted calls to make vaccinations mandatory for all school staff across the province, citing possible pressure on already low staffing levels if thousands of education workers lose their jobs.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce said on Tuesday that 50,000 education workers could be fired if the province mandated COVID-19 vaccines for workers the sector.
A ministry spokeswoman said 85 per cent of education staff are fully vaccinated and the remaining 15 per cent have attested to not being fully vaccinated, including having medical exemptions, or haven't disclosed their status.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 27, 2021.
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press