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Hamilton’s public school board sets December date to update mandatory vaccine policy for staff

Hamilton Wentworth District School Board education director Manny Figueiredo during a media op at Shannen Koostachin Elementary school in August 2020. Global News

With close to 93 per cent of staff at the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) reporting they’ve been fully vaccinated, trustees will not be moving to implement a new “mandatory procedure,” according to the board’s executive director.

After a mid-September board meeting, Trustees approved a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination procedure for all staff with warnings of “limiting access” to those who did not adhere to requirements by a set deadline.

The HWDSB also informed staff in a Sept. 14 internal letter that the “earliest” deadline for the policy could come into effect Nov. 30.

However, HWDSB spokesperson Shawn McKillop has since confirmed to Global News that the board has dropped that deadline date.

Read more: Ontario could see 50,000 education workers fired if COVID-19 vaccines mandated: Lecce

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Executive director Manny Figueiredo told 900 CHML’s Hamilton Today that the motion for the mandatory procedure is still on the books and that current policy is to continue with the implemented ministry immunization disclosure and testing policy.

“I’ve been clear with our trustees that a draft will be developed and brought back to them in December,” Figueredo said.

“We’re not moving to one, but we’re continually promoting and supporting staff and new staff around the current mandatory requirements.”

As of last Friday, over 6,500 (92.9 per cent) of 7,000 HWDSB staff have attested to being fully vaccinated with 390 reporting they are unvaccinated with only 27 saying they had a medical reason for not being inoculated.

About 79 (1.1 per cent) have not responded.

“Everyone who’s in our schools is either vaccinated or they have to participate in weekly rapid antigen testing,” Figueredo said.

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“If they’re not, we’ve had to make a tough decision that some employees have been reassigned to home without pay because they’re not meeting the condition of appointments set up by the Ministry of Education.”

Of concern for the director and the board is consistency with vaccination policies across Ontario, particularly with staff who work in other school districts where similar policies like Hamilton’s have not been put into effect.

“If their policy doesn’t go mandatory and we do, the risk to me is, we could potentially create other safety implications by having jobs go unfilled, and that’s a real risk,” Figueiredo said.

On Tuesday, provincial policy was scrutinized by the opposition at Queens Park with education minister Steven Lecce suggesting up to 50,000 education workers in Ontario could be fired if COVID-19 vaccines were mandated for that sector.

Read more: Hundreds of Hamilton public education workers not vaccinated or aren’t saying if they are

“I think we have to be coupled by realism and ensure that any staff member who enters our school has a double test, a negative antigen test, to ensure they are safe, to ensure our schools could be staffed, and these kids can continue to go to school every day,” Lecce said in response to the NDP in question period.

In Ontario, more than 85 per cent of education staff are fully vaccinated, approximately 15 per cent have attested to not being fully vaccinated, including having medical exemptions, or haven’t said either way.

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Figueredo says he will have an update on a draft mandatory vaccination procedure at the HWDSB’s Dec. 13 board meeting.

— with files from the Canadian Press

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