Discussions continue about reopening Ontario schools; boards plan student vaccinations
KITCHENER -- While discussions regarding reopening schools across Ontario continue, one local board is focusing its efforts on getting some students fully vaccinated by the fall.
Ontario's top doctor said Tuesday he would like to see students return to their classrooms before the province starts reopening in mid-June.
“I've been encouraging schools to open as soon as possible, discussions with our medical officers of health throughout the province, all of them want them schools open,” said Dr. David Williams during a news conference. “May 31 into the first week of June would be an opportune time for some areas and we may want to do things on a regional basis.”
Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Matthew Tenenbaum said the health unit supports moving to in-class learning as soon as possible if it's given a green light by the province.
He said they're waiting on approval from the government, but said case counts are low enough now that students could return in that health unit as early as Monday.
In an emailed statement to CTV Kitchener, Region of Waterloo Public Health said Medical Officer of Health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang supports a return to in-person learning as both provincial and local trends improve.
A spokesperson for the health unit said any decisions will be made by the Ministries of Education and Health at the provincial level.
Cases of COVID-19 have continued to fall in the third wave of the pandemic while Ontario remains under a stay-at-home order. Vaccinations continue to surge with more than 8.2-million people receiving their first shot.
However, some teachers’ unions said a return to the classroom within a month is not on their radar.
“I think they are looking forward to September. I don’t think there’s a whole lot of idea that things are going to change between now and the end of June,” said Patrick Etmanski, local president of the OECTA.
SCHOOL BOARDS WAITING ON PROVINCE
A spokesperson for the Waterloo Region District School Board said they're still waiting on more information from the Ministry of Education on a possible return to school this year. The spokesperson said the board remains "confident in our ability to work with any potential framework for doing so as directed by the ministry."
As for the Waterloo Catholic District School Board, a spokesperson said they don't have any other information at this time. They added the ministry will let them know as soon as there's a decision.
"All we know is the possibility of a return in June has not been ruled out," a statement from the school board said in part.
At Tuesday night’s Upper Grand District School Board meeting, the focus was on the fall and approving a student vaccination plan.
“I think there's a lot of hope for as much of a regular return to school as possible,” said Gary Slater, superintendent of the UGDSB.
VACCINE PLAN FOR STUDENTS
Both the WRDSB and WCDSB said they're working with Region of Waterloo Public Health to encourage students to pre-register vaccines. Earlier this month, pre-registration opened for anyone aged 12 and older.
Both school boards said they're working with public health on a coordinated vaccine plan, but details haven't been finalized yet.
Slater said the UGDSB’s plan is to get students vaccinated before the return to the classroom
“Students that are aged 12 to 17 are approved for vaccination and the ministry has made it a priority to offer vaccines for these students,” said Slater.
Dr. Matthew Tenenbaum, associate medical officer of health for Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph said there's enough vaccine supply right now to continue moving through younger age groups.
"We are already beginning to offer appointments to people who are signed up in our local registration system," he said. "We're going to have dedicated clinics later in June to make sure we have high uptake among that age group (12+) to get those first doses in."
Dr. Tenenbaum said they hope to administer second doses to students before they head back to school.
Public health officials in Waterloo Region said they're working with school boards and plan to have information in the coming days.
The board’s plan is to get first does to as many students as possible by the end of June and second doses by the end of August.
They hope to use existing public health vaccination clinics, as well as a new clinic to be opened at Centre Dufferin District High School in Shelburne.
“Hopefully we'll get a significant uptake of our students at that time,” said Slater.
The UGDSB plans to open a special pre-registration for students by June 1, but the board is hearing thataround 6,000 students in that age group have signed up through the local public health portal.