In-person or virtual learning? TDSB parents must make that call without knowing who's immunized

·3 min read
The Toronto District School Board emailed selection forms to more than 200,000 parents and guardians on Thursday, asking to receive an answer on whether their child will be going back to in-person or virtual learning by Aug. 12.  (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
The Toronto District School Board emailed selection forms to more than 200,000 parents and guardians on Thursday, asking to receive an answer on whether their child will be going back to in-person or virtual learning by Aug. 12. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

Parents and guardians in the Toronto District School Board have just days to choose whether their children will go back to in-person or virtual learning come September, but they'll have to do it without knowing who will be vaccinated at their schools, and who won't.

The TDSB emailed selection forms to more than 200,000 parents and guardians on Thursday and asked to receive an answer by Aug. 12. If the board doesn't receive a response within the week, the student will be automatically enrolled in in-class learning.

"It's really important that we hear from everybody," said Shari Schwartz-Maltz, spokesperson for the TDSB, adding that the answers will inform staffing decisions.

"We believe we're going to keep [students] safe and they'll get to see their friends. They'll get to interact. So we really, really hope that you come back."

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

But the board won't be telling parents who will and who won't be immunized against COVID-19 at their schools.

Toronto, Peel won't have school-specific vaccination rates

Only one public health unit in Ontario is making that information publicly available.

On its website, the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health Unit posts vaccination rates, including the proportion of students who have been vaccinated with their first and second doses, broken down by school.

Spokesperson Danny Williamson said the unit merged two sets of data — COVaxON, the provincial vaccination record system and Panorama, a system already used by health units to track childhood vaccine rates at schools for diseases like measles, mumps rubella and polio.

Meanwhile, Toronto Public Health (TPH) said parents and students in the city won't have that kind of access to vaccination rates school-by-school because "the data that we are able to access are incomplete. We continue to explore methodologies to obtain this data."

In a written statement, TPH said as of mid-July, less than 50 per cent of Toronto residents aged 12-17 who have received at least one dose of the vaccine had identified a school in the provincial immunization database.

When entering the reason for immunization, the agency said only one option requires a school name. If the child has any other reason for getting the shot, such as being part of a priority population or an Indigenous community, entering a school name is not mandatory.

"TPH is exploring options for linking different data sets once approvals are received to enable a more complete vaccination coverage rate by schools to be determined, and has been in touch with the Ministry of Health to discuss this," the statement said.

Peel Region won't be providing a school-by-school breakdown, either.

"At this time, we do not have this data available as we are still waiting on enrolment information which should be available by mid-September," said Peel Public Health staff in an emailed statement.

Vaccinate kids to ensure their safety, expert tells parents

Infectious disease physician Dr. Zain Chagla says he appreciates that parents want access to that information.

"But you can probably get a ballpark figure of how many fully vaccinated 12-year-olds to 17-year-olds that there are based on those regional numbers," he said.

Chagla says if parents really want to make sure their kids are protected when they go back to class in the coming school year, their children should get vaccinated.

"That really should define things more than who around them is vaccinated."

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