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Public health close Thorncliffe Park Public School after 3 teachers refuse work due to COVID-19 outbreak

Last Updated Dec 4, 2020 at 6:36 am EDT

Toronto’s medical officer of health has decided to shut down an East York school after a number of teachers refused to go into work over fears of a recent COVID-19 outbreak.

This comes after asymptomatic COVID-19 testing at Thorncliffe Park Public School uncovered a significant outbreak among staff and students.

Eileen de Villa issued a letter to parents and guardians, saying that as of Thursday, they will dismiss all cohorts at Thorncliffe Park Public School until Dec. 10 as a result of the outbreak.

“Students and staff in the affected cohorts have already been told to self-isolate and monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 by Toronto Public Health,” the letter reads.

“All other students and staff are advised to self-monitor closely for symptoms and signs of COVID-19.”

A virtual information session for parents by conducted by Toronto Public Health will be held on Sunday, Dec. 6 at 12 p.m.

In a letter to parents, Principal Jeff Crane said all classes will move to remote learning and teacher’s will be contacting all students to provide more details on what is expected.

On Thursday morning, Jennifer Brown, the President of the Elementary Teachers of Toronto (ETT), said three out of the school’s 30 staff members have ultimately decided to refuse to work.

“What I do know, that could be causing concern, because it would be a concern for me is that there are over 348 students self-isolating at home, equivalent of about 18 classes,” Brown told 680 NEWS.

“Of that, there are 27 teachers self-isolating at home, 24 students have tested positive for COVID-19, and two staff members have tested positive. In a school, where they have an approximate amount of 750 students attending in person, that’s almost half the student population self-isolating right now.”

“I think that would be part of their concern about this work refusal,” Brown added.

In a letter to parents on Nov. 29, Crane said 433 tests were conducted at the school on a voluntary basis under a Ministry of Education pilot program to test students and staff without symptoms for COVID-19.

At the time, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) said 14 classes out of 42 have been asked to self-isolate. Spokesman Ryan Bird said that number includes approximately 275 students and 17 staff members.

 

Brown went on to say that the teachers need a “clear understanding” as to why the school has not closed down.

“We have Thorncliffe Park, it’s a very high density area. It’s my understanding that the school was declared to be an outbreak at near the end of Oct. where they had staff members test positive and five classes went sent home to isolate,” Brown added.

“This is problematic. After that, I have been told there were secretary’s that have tested positive. All four of them tested positive, and a vice-principal.”

“…This is concerning. Nobody wants to go to work to get sick. Everybody is entitled to a safe and healthy work environment. I call on our government to do what’s right. To stop with their reactionary type of solutions and put in long lasting standards and be proactive,” she said.

The Ministry of Labour is now investigating the circumstances at the school.

“The government’s top priority is ensuring the health and well being of students, teachers and support staff,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

“The Ministry of Labour, Training Skills and Development’s neutral role is to ensure that workplaces are safe. Today [Thursday], the Ministry was made aware that three employees at Thorncliffe Park Public School refused work. Health and safety inspectors visited the workplace and their investigation is ongoing.”

Ontario is reporting 122 new COVID-19 cases across its school boards and 1,413 infections in the past 14 days.

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