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Teachers unions support switch to virtual learning until educators are vaccinated

Last Updated Apr 6, 2021 at 11:59 am EDT

The headquarters of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario are seen in Toronto on Sept. 4, 2018. CITYNEWS/George Joseph

The temporary halting of in-person learning in Peel Region is getting the thumbs up from the province’s teachers unions.

President of the Elementary Teachers Federation (ETFO) Sam Hammond says the “prudent decision” will protect students and educators and support health care workers.

However, the union still wants to see all schools in hot spots closed to in-person learning until teachers are vaccinated.

“As medical experts have said, there is no excuse—no valid reason—to not begin vaccinating all essential workers today,” said Hammond.  “This includes all education workers. Failure to do so, with so many available vaccines sitting in freezers, is negligent and dangerous.”

Similar calls are coming from the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association.

The president of the Toronto chapter, who two weeks ago had called for schools in hot spots to be shut down, is expressing huge concern that schools remain open and that students and staff are being put at risk.

“I cannot agree with the decision of TPH not to transition all Toronto elementary schools to remote learning,” said Julie Altomore-Di Nunzio in an email. “My teachers are contracting the virus and in most cases it is a variant of concern which is causing acute illness.”

“Teachers need to be vaccinated. It is not a safe situation. I am not sure why this government and TPH are not taking more decisive actions to protect students and teachers.”

Altomore-Di Nunzio says that elementary schools in Toronto should make the switch to virtual learning as soon as possible.

Asked by 680 NEWS why the province does not start vaccinating teachers now, Ontario’s Solicitor General appeared to indicate that there is not enough doses on hand to do that, however, there are approximately a million doses of vaccine currently sitting in freezers in Ontario.

“There is always a plan as we continue to get more vaccine from the federal government,” said Sylvia Jones. “The ability to as Dr. Dirk Huyer says, squeeze the accordion and move faster through essential workers gives us that ability when we get the vaccines.”

Meantime, Ontario Liberal Party Leader Steven Del Duca is calling on Premier Ford to vaccinate all education workers starting during the April 12 school break.

Del Duca suggested the government start doling out the vaccines in schools so that teachers could go to their own school during the week off to receive their shot.

The ETFO says they are continuing to monitor the situation and will meet Tuesday to “discuss next steps” if the Ford government fails to prioritize education workers.

RELATED: Lecce insists schools are safe, Toronto Public Health won’t recommend move to remote learning

TPH has recommended the closure of 22 schools in the city as of Tuesday. Students attending the closed schools will be moving to online learning.

Peel Public Health has issued a Section 22 order to close all schools in the region and shift to remote learning.

The closure will remain in place through the end of day April 18. Further decisions to extend the order will be made, as required, and Peel Public Health says the return will be re-evaluated closer to that date and is subject to change.

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