Nine schools in the city will now be closed until January after the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) announced six more school closures on Sunday due to COVID-19.
The board said students and staff at City Adult Learning Centre, Humewood Community School, RH McGregor Elementary School, David Lewis Public School, Grenoble Public School, and Oakridge Junior Public School will be moving to remote learning this week to allow Toronto Public Health (TPH) investigate the cases at the schools.
“Toronto Public Health looks at all of the unique circumstances involving each of the COVID cases at those individual schools. So, there is no specific number, for example, that has been reached to those schools that would prompt this,” TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird told CP24.
“But they’re looking at all the data. They know the contact tracing, they know the information behind this, and they advised this afternoon that it was best to close these two schools to students and staff, effectively until Monday, Jan. 4.”
According to the TDSB dashboard, the five schools have a combined total of 22 cases among students.
Bird said the schools have sent letters to parents, including information from TPH, to notify them about the closures.
“The good news is that we were able to get it out, obviously before the dinner hour, so we could provide as much information as possible as early as possible, ahead of tomorrow,” he said.
Thorncliffe Park Public School, which was shut down earlier this month after dozens of cases were uncovered following asymptomatic testing, will remain closed, as well as adjoining Fraser Mustard Early Learning Academy.
“The specific details would have to come from Toronto Public Health, but it’s my understanding is that they are looking at the cases, they’re looking at how it’s being transmitted. They’re looking at all their contact tracing for these two specific schools,” Bird said.
“They felt based on the information that they have that students and staff should continue to be dismissed.”
There are 33 cases among students and staff at Thorncliffe Park Public School, while Fraser Mustard Early Learning Academy have eight cases.
Last week, the TDSB announced that Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute will also be closed until January due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
In a statement, TPH said the decision to close schools is based on several factors. These include the number of cases, percent positivity, the specific details of the case investigation such as when the person was contagious and if they were at school, and where they could have gotten infected with COVID-19, any subsequent new cases occurring in the school, and how well the school, staff and students are implementing protective measures.
“TPH has many ongoing investigations of COVID-19 related to schools and we continue to make recommendations to coordinate testing on an ongoing basis,” the statement reads.
“We continue working with our school board partners in Toronto and the guidance from the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education to make sure to the greatest extent as possible that our schools remain open for in-person learning as much as it is safely possible to do so.”
Bird said there will be cleaning conducted at the schools over the winter break.
“That’s something that’s being conducted over the next few weeks, obviously prior to students and staff returning in January,” he said.
Jennifer Brown, the president of the Elementary Teachers of Toronto, commended the board’s decision to close the schools.
“The fact that we see that there are more cases coming up, and it’s more and more prevalent, it is a good thing to do to protect the education workers, the students and to make the school as safe as possible so that there is a return that is going to be sustainable, versus a rotating door of COVID cases,” Brown said in an interview with CP24.
However, she said most of their members are still scared to teach because of the lack of transparency from TPH regarding how their decisions are made.
“That is something that we’re looking to get so that there’s understanding so that the right people are quarantined, and everybody has the proper information,” Brown said.
While teachers have been told to prepare to switch to online learning in case schools closed, Brown said it is not an ideal situation.
“This is not the best way that students learn. We know face-to-face is the best way. So, we want the schools to be reopened,” she said.
That’s why Brown is urging the provincial government to reduce class sizes so that physical distancing can be observed and virus transmission in schools could be prevented.
“It is a shortcoming of this government, and I really would like to see that they put in the funding that’s necessary for a thriving education system,” Brown said.
She is also echoing the call for more asymptomatic testing in schools from teachers and education workers with the TDSB.
They made the request last week in an open letter to Ontario’s health and education ministries and their school board, as well as Toronto Public Health.
“I think it’s something that needs to happen because as the testing is taking place, more and more students are being discovered, and therefore, it is better to know than not know and keep the schools as safe as possible,” Brown said.
Last month, the province adjusted its COVID-19 testing guidance for school staff and students in Toronto, York Region, Peel Region and Ottawa to allow voluntary asymptomatic testing.
In the letter, teachers and education workers also asked the province to stop in-person learning for the first two weeks of January to ensure that schools do not contribute to a possible post-holiday spread of COVID-19.
In response to the letter, a spokesperson for Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce reiterated that schools remain safe spaces for learning.
“Our government believes it is so important for our students to continue to go to school,” the spokesperson said.
“While all provinces contend with rising community-based transmission, the best medical experts have made clear that cases are overwhelmingly not being transmitted within our schools – the risk remains from our community.”
Last week, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit ordered all schools to close a week early because of rising COVID-19 cases in the region.