Toronto Public Health found private school broke COVID-19 lockdown rules: leaked report

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: Some community members say Toronto private school appears to be open'
Coronavirus: Some community members say Toronto private school appears to be open
WATCH ABOVE: As Catherine McDonald reports, Yeshiva Yesodei Hatorah says it’s closed but junior high students can come for prayers. – Jan 14, 2021

A North York private school that was the subject of a Toronto Public Health (TPH) investigation has been instructed to start complying with COVID-19 lockdown regulations after it was discovered to not be adhering to them in mid-January.

The school was told failing to comply could result in charges being issued under section 10 of the Reopening Ontario Act (ROA).

An advisory notice, which was provided to Global News anonymously by a member of the community, appeared to have been sent to the administration of Yeshiva Yesodei Hatorah on Jan. 19, 2021.

Nicole Welch, a director and COVID-19 liaison with TPH, wrote that during the department’s on-site investigation on Jan. 14, inspectors learned that despite the current prohibition on in-person teaching and instruction, many elementary and junior high students continued to attend the school for prayer sessions between 8:30 and approximately 10:00 or 10:30 a.m., and again between 1:00 and 1:30 p.m.

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According to TPH, school officials indicated that “some of these students are being fed on-site after the morning prayer sessions”. In response to this information, Welch wrote that “to the extent any religious or prayer services are being offered as a substitute for in-person teaching or instruction and/or child care, such activities must cease.”

TPH reported that upwards of 50 students were found to be attending the same prayer room at the same time for prayer sessions twice a day.

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“For example, within one prayer room, there are desks set up with five different sections. The desks are not arranged so as to ensure appropriate physical distancing,” the letter said.

“The sections are also only separated from one another by five-foot-tall makeshift plastic-covered stacked tables.

The school was told the prayer sessions were not consistent with lockdown regulations and they raised serious public health concerns in the midst of a critical time in the pandemic.

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Welch said in addition to issues concerning the volume and duration of school-aged children at the school, the City also received complaints regarding in-person teaching or instruction being provided by the school and/or persons affiliated with the school at off-site locations, such as in the homes of students or at an alternate business address.

“Neither of these activities are permitted,” she said.

“Under the lockdown regulation, in-person private tutoring businesses are not permitted to be operating other than remote means. To the extent that in-person tutoring is occurring on behalf of the school, such activities are also prohibited under the school provisions of the lockdown regulation.”

The school was warned that such activities must cease immediately and was advised that the City may take enforcement action without any further notice to those mentioned in the letter, or to the school.

Global News reported Yeshiva Yesodei Hatorah was under investigation by TPH in mid-January after a concerned community member reported the school did not appear to be following lockdown regulations after witnessing many school-aged students being dropped off and picked up from the school.

At the time, the school’s executive director, Rabbi Binyamin Septon, wrote in a statement to Global News the school was closed in accordance with the province-wide shutdown except for daycare and the junior high division which comes for morning and afternoon prayer services.

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“All our activity is (in) accordance to the rules and guidelines of the Province,” Septon previously said.

When contacted on Friday, Septon said the school is “in full compliance and look(s) forward to school reopening next week.”

Global News contacted TPH for comment on the leaked document. A spokesperson said the City does not disclose details related to investigations.

“The City can confirm that it has communicated its expectations to the school and will continue to monitor for compliance,” the spokesperson said.

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