COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for teachers, staff at Ottawa's largest school board

COVID-19 vaccinations will be mandatory for all teachers and staff members at Ottawa's largest school board.

Trustees with the Ottawa Carleton District School Board voted 11-0 Wednesday evening to implement a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy for all staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The motion directs staff to finalize a COVID-19 mandatory employee vaccination protocol and strategy by Sept. 30, with staff mandated to receive the first dose by the end of the month. Staff members must get the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine "as soon as medically allowed and available."

The Ottawa Carleton District School Board policy will comply with human rights exemptions, such as medical or religious reasons. Unvaccinated staff members will be required to undergo regular COVID-19 testing. 

Trustees met for 25 minutes Wednesday evening to finalize the plan, after a five-hour meeting ended Tuesday night without finalizing the policy. Trustee Donna Blackburn voted against a motion to extend the meeting beyond the 11 p.m. deadline.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Trustees voted to support the wording of the motion, but ran out of time for the official vote to implement the policy.

"I'm full in favour of mandatory vaccination for educators," said secondary school teacher Barry Needham, noting teachers are optimistic vaccinations will help keep kids safe and in classrooms.

"Everyone is very supportive of everyone and it's something that we all strive to be part of."

Robin Richardson's son will be attending Kindergarten this fall.

"I think it's a personal choice," said Richardson. "I would obviously feel more comfortable if my son's teacher was, but they're still wearing the gear."

COVID-19 vaccines will also be mandatory for all volunteers visiting schools this fall.

Appearing on CTV News at Noon, OCDSB board chair Lynn Scott said the board was trying to make sure the policy follows human rights regulations.

“We’re working right now to make sure we can comply with the vaccination declarations and it’s a matter of the board taking the additional action with regard to expecting every staff member to have a vaccination. Last night, we unfortunately ran out of time," said Scott about the debate Tuesday evening.

Scott said there might be some unvaccinated staff when school begins next week.

"The expectation is that all staff will be vaccinated. That is in line with the provincial expectation and we are simply enhancing that by moving in a closer deadline," she said.

She defended the board amid frustration from parents over the apparent delays, but said the board was moving as quickly as it could.

"I can understand and appreciate the frustration," she said. "I think the big thing is that trustees are trying very hard to do their due diligence to consider all the aspects and make sure we get the language right. We're moving, basically, as fast as we can and I think that we will have this completed by shortly after 6 p.m. today. In the meantime, our staff are busy working to make sure we have those attestations of vaccination status coming in to meet the provincial deadline."

The Ontario government requires publicly-funded school board employees to disclose vaccination status by Sept. 7. Staff who are not fully vaccinated will face rapid antigen testing requirements.

Scott could not say exactly how many staff remain unvaccinated but she said an estimated 10 per cent may not yet be vaccinated, and some of them might have valid exemptions.

Masks mandatory for kindergarten

Some new policies were approved Tuesday, including mandating COVID-19 vaccines for volunteers and making masks mandatory in kindergarten, becoming the last of Ottawa's four school boards to go beyond the provincial mandate of only recommending masks for the youngest learners.

The first day of school in the OCDSB is Sept. 9. The board is Ottawa's largest, with more than 70,000 students and 9,000 staff at 142 schools.