Unions, politicians call on Ontario to vaccinate teachers or close schools in hot spots

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TORONTO — Calls to vaccinate education workers against COVID-19 grew louder on Tuesday as some health units opted to close schools amid rising case numbers across the province.

Opposition leaders called on the government to offer vaccines to education workers, while unions said schools in areas with high infection rates should close until the shots are offered.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the government should “urgently” vaccinate education workers and use the upcoming April break to make other upgrades to classrooms.

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“Parents, educators, and students across the province have been thrown into chaos once again,” Horwath said. “We must use this moment to make classrooms safer so students can safely return after the April break.”

Three teachers’ unions also asked the government to close schools for in-class learning in virus hot spots and offer vaccines to education workers.

The province has entered a four-week shutdown in response to a worsening third wave of the pandemic driven by more infectious and deadly variants. The move puts further restrictions on some businesses but leaves schools open for in-class learning.

Ontario’s education minister has maintained that keeping schools open is crucial for students’ mental health. A spokesperson said Monday that the province intends to go ahead with the break set to begin on April 12 and a return to in-person classes the following week.

But some health units have decided to break with the government’s plan and shut down in-person classrooms as a precaution.

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Classes in Peel Region moved online on Tuesday following an order by the medical officer of health. Public health officials in Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph followed suit, ordering all schools to close starting Wednesday, with a return date no sooner than April 19.

Meanwhile, two Niagara Region school boards said staff would be eligible for COVID-19 shots starting next week.

Shots will be administered on a voluntary basis at a vaccine clinic in St. Catharines, Ont., the Niagara Catholic District school board said Tuesday.

“Schools are microcosms of the community, and we know that we are not immune to being affected by community cases,” Camillo Cipriano, the board’s director of education, said in a statement.

The District School Board of Niagara said as many as 4,000 staff who work in schools will have the option to be vaccinated next week.

The chair of the board thanked the public health unit on Tuesday.

“By making this decision, they have increased the safety of our students, staff, and their families for the rest of the year,” Sue Barnett said.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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