The Toronto District School Board says teachers have engaged in a work stoppage on Monday after a confirmed coronavirus outbreak at a Scarborough elementary school, leaving almost 200 students without teachers.
Glamorgan Junior Public School currently has nine staff members and two students who have tested positive for the virus. The infected individuals have been away from school for about one week, TDSB spokesperson Shari Schwartz-Maltz said.
Schwartz-Maltz said 10 of the cases detected were found in one wing of the school and one case, a child in a junior grade, was from the main part of the school. A total of 58 people are in self-isolation. Fifty-eight students have been put into self-isolation.
“Toronto Public Health has determined that while this is an outbreak, the school does not need to be closed and so we continued on,” Schwartz-Maltz said.
“The teachers feel differently and they are on a work-stoppage today.”
The TDSB said it has brought in several vice principals from surrounding schools to help out with the approximately 186 students at the school on Monday. Normally there are about 278 students in class, Schwartz-Maltz said.
Schwartz-Maltz also said the teachers contacted the Ministry of Labour last week. The ministry came to the school and determined that the site was safe, she said.
Jennifer Brown, president of Elementary Teachers of Toronto, called the situation “nerve-wracking.”
“Right now, teachers have a school environment that they don’t see as safe. Their colleagues have been sent home because they’ve contracted COVID,” she told Global News.
“No one wants to go to a place where they can get sick and then potentially bring it home to their own families.”
Don MacMillan with CUPE 4400 Toronto Education Workers, the union representing support staff and early childhood educators across TDSB, said that the membership is “unsure about the safety of the school right now” and is also part of the work stoppage.
MacMillan said two of the CUPE staff members have tested positive for coronavirus.
“To close off one wing, the ventilation system serves the whole school. There’s concerns about the possibility of it being within the ventilation system,” MacMillan said. “We just want a safe working environment and learning environment for the students.”
“We’re all looking for common ground here so we can get staff back into schools,” he added.
However, the TDSB spokesperson said that the school is still open.
Schwartz-Maltz said that there was communication regarding the outbreak to staff, students and parents last week, but how communication was made leading up to Monday morning’s teacher walk-out remains unclear.
Isabel Zaw-Tun, a parent of a Grade 4 student and Grade 6 student at Glamorgan Junior Public School, said she came to the school to pull her children out.
“I feel really unsatisfied with the communication that I had with the school,” Zaw-Tun said, adding that she first found out about a positive case last week from her children at the dinner table.
“I kept hearing different information from what my kids were telling me and then what the school was telling me,” Zaw-Tun said.
“It just seems like there is a problem with communication between parents and the schools and that’s really frustrating to me because I want to make sure that my kids are safe and that the people taking care of them are keeping me in the loop.”
Zaw-Tun said she believes the COVID-19 outbreak is serious if the teachers are refusing to work.
— With files from Shallima Maharaj