Minister Elliott and Minister Lecce,
On behalf of the Toronto District School Board, I am writing to express our deep concerns with the lack of nurses that may be available to support our students, staff and communities. This summer, we plan to safely re-open schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic and this is an important issue for us to address.
As you know, Toronto has had the highest COVID-19 total case count of any area of Ontario and many of our school communities have been negatively impacted by this pandemic, both mentally and physically. As we plan for our school communities to safely return to school this September, additional school-based Toronto Public Health nurses in our schools would assist with health measures and protocols (such as screenings) in the first few weeks of school and play an important on-the-ground role in outbreak management.
While we know your government has announced a plan to hire 500 additional nurses in Ontario, we do not believe this is reflective of the needs of our school communities, which encompasses about 600 schools.
Therefore, in recognizing these needs, we are asking that you move forward with the hiring of additional public health nurses for our schools to provide support needed for a safer return to school and, in particular, schools within high incidence areas.
We are also asking that you consider the recommendations put forth by Toronto Public Health with regard to your plan for re-opening schools, such as:
• that class sizes are limited to allow physical distancing of 2 metres between all students;
• Strongly encouraging masks for younger students (below Grade 4) where possible;
• Prioritizing resources for schools in high-transmission and high-needs areas;
• Piloting a saliva-based testing option that could be used in homes and schools; and
• Implementing active daily screening practices.
Specifically, we are very interested in the implementation of a saliva-based test. Our request is that this initiative be piloted with the TDSB and Toronto Public Health, and scaled up as needed, to minimize disruption to student learning that could be impacted from having to repeatedly shut down in-class instruction.
It’s of the utmost importance that the health and safety of our school communities remains our top priority as we move forward with the re-opening of schools this September.
As the new Chair of the board, I look forward to developing a very sincere and productive partnership with you. I am always available to continue this conversation at your earliest convenience.
Chair, Toronto District School Board