More than a month after the school year, the province’s largest school boards report that staff vaccination rates range from a high of 94.8 percent to a low of 76 percent.
But a Star analysis of 31 major boards has found inconsistencies in the way they report and present this information that make it difficult to compare rates across boards. and in most cases it is impossible for parents to know the vaccination rate of teachers in their meetings.
Despite a provincial order for public school board employees to disclose their immunization status, Star found that more than 15,000 employees have not done so, and because the boards do not disaggregate data by job category, they do not it is clear what these people do.
Overall COVID-19 vaccination rates among all staff at these boards are, for the most part, in line with or above the overall vaccination rate in the province. But the boards say the job breakdowns are private, or they are not required to provide vaccination rates for teachers, who spend hours with unvaccinated children in elementary schools.
The overall vaccination rate is a key metric for assessing risk in the absence of a provincial mandate that requires all education workers who interact with children to be vaccinated. Some boards have introduced their own policies and have said they will suspend staff who do not comply.
While parents can’t tell if their child’s individual teacher is vaccinated, grouping all staff together isn’t that helpful to them either.
“It doesn’t make sense for boards of directors to tell us what percentage of the overall staff is vaccinated because we don’t yet know if they are teachers interacting with our children or administrative staff,” said Claudia Wilson, who has two enrolled children. at St. Benedict Catholic Elementary School in Ottawa, which recently declared an end to an outbreak that resulted in 37 student cases.
“In my opinion, it’s either you tell us everything or you don’t tell us anything.”
The 15,000 employees who have not provided their immunization status represent roughly seven percent of the total number of people to whom these policies apply among the boards of directors surveyed by Star. (The boards emphasize that many of these individuals are temporary or temporary staff. those who have not worked this year).
The board with the highest staff vaccination rate was the Ottawa Catholic School Board at 94.84 percent (updated Wednesday).
The lowest was Toronto Catholic District School Board at 76 percent (last updated September 30). But these numbers include all staff and trustees and do not specify vaccination rates for jobs, such as a teacher, that require close interaction with students.
None of the boards surveyed by Star provide a public breakdown of vaccination rates for teachers, specifically. The boards say they are simply following the province’s instructions, which only require “aggregated and depersonalized board-level data” to be publicly reported on a monthly basis or that privacy concerns prevent them from reporting teacher vaccination rates.
Only four of the 31 boards Star contacted would provide details on the breakdown of teacher immunization status when asked: Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington Catholic District School Board (93 percent), Board Upper Grand School District School Board (97.8 percent of personal continuing education), Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board (92 percent), and Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board (“just over 4,000 “out of 4,513 permanent teachers, according to spokesman Bruce Campbell).
In an email to the Star, the Health Ministry said data on staff vaccination rates should be provided in aggregate form only without any identifying information, including charges. Ministry spokesman Bill Campbell said parents are free to ask if their child’s teacher is fully vaccinated, “and the teacher may voluntarily disclose this information.”
Compounding the lack of transparency from the boards of directors surveyed by Star, many report staff vaccination levels in different, often confusing, ways that make comparison difficult. Some continue to record staff vaccination rates, while others update it once a month.
For example, the first percentage shown to parents who visit the York Region District School Board The website has “92.8%” in large print with the words “Submitted staff are fully vaccinated.” But that figure is the percentage of staff who say they are fully vaccinated only among those who have completed a certification form. The actual staff vaccination rate, 81.2 percent, is published below in a graph along with other figures.
In contrast, the Toronto Catholic District School Board reports both the percentage of fully vaccinated individuals who have submitted a certification form, 90 percent, and the actual percent of total staff who are vaccinated, 76 percent, from September 30.
Other school boards, such as the Halton District School Board and the Peel District School Board, do not publish any percentage. Instead, these boards publish only raw figures, such as the total number of people to whom the vaccination disclosure applies and the number who have attested to be fully vaccinated, leaving parents to do their own calculations.
The Star also found that some boards, including the Ottawa Catholic School Board and the Toronto Catholic District School Board, group the number of staff who have testified to being fully vaccinated with or without supporting documentation, further muddying the waters.
By contrast, other boards, such as the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board and the Durham District School Board, more transparently break down the numbers showing how many staff members have attested to being fully vaccinated with and without supporting documentation.
In the TCDSB case, spokeswoman Shazia Vlahos told Star that the board has created a team to follow up on people who have not submitted supporting documentation, as well as those who have not yet completed certification forms. .
In August, Ontario Medical Director Dr. Kieran Moore announced a COVID-19 vaccine disclosure requirement for all publicly funded school board staff for this school year. The policy says they must do one of three things: provide proof of complete vaccination against COVID-19; produce a documented medical reason for not receiving the vaccine; or complete a COVID-19 vaccination education program on the benefits of the vaccine. Personnel who are not fully vaccinated should complete rapid antigen tests twice a week.
Already one board, the Toronto Catholic District School Board, has issued stern warnings to unvaccinated staff that they risk being suspended without pay if they fail to meet the twice-weekly rapid test requirements.
the Toronto District School Board has gone a step further with its own immunization mandate, requiring all staff, trustees, and others who have contact with staff or students to be vaccinated by November 1 or face an unpaid home assignment .
the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board requires all staff to be fully vaccinated by November 15th. Employees who declined to disclose their immunization status, who responded that they were not vaccinated or did not complete the vaccine certification are not working directly with the students, according to spokesman Darcy Knoll.
“Some staff members” who did not provide proof of vaccination before Sept. 30 were placed on administrative leave without pay, Knoll added, but the exact number “is not available at this time.”
There is no privacy legislation that prevents school boards from disclosing vaccination rates by job category, says Avner Levin, an expert on privacy law and a professor at Ryerson University’s Lincoln Alexander School of Law.
“I cannot accept that there is a privacy reason for all of this,” he said. “The key element of information retention is whether you can identify a person. Aggregate statistical information cannot identify an individual. ”
In fact, there is a provision in provincial privacy law that allows an organization to provide information if there is a compelling health and safety purpose, Levin noted.
“There is a misconception that COVID is harmless to children, but we know that there is a long-lasting COVID and pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome (PIMS) that cause massive inflammation throughout the body,” he said. “So there is a very compelling reason for both children and their parents that they could catch it from children to find out specifically who in their school” is putting them at risk.
Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth, an Ottawa-based family physician who has organized mass vaccination clinics, said parents deserve to know if their children go to school with staff who may not be fully vaccinated.
“There is a total lack of transparency,” he said. “And it shouldn’t be left to the parents to fight and figure out, well, what is the safest thing for my child at this point?”
This problem is because the province “does not want to be proactive” in vaccination mandates and leaves it to individual boards to decide whether the vaccine will be necessary for staff, he added. Schools have been open for weeks and without a consistent set of rules for vaccine meetings, “it puts everything at risk, it’s like a house of cards waiting to fall.”
In New York, Meanwhile, all public school personnel needed to receive a first dose of the vaccine by Sept. 27 or they would be put on leave without pay, leading thousands to get vaccinated.
Parent Nora Fayed said the lack of transparency, clarity and standardization in tracking vaccinations at school boards means there is not a good evidence base for making major decisions and policies.
“That’s a really big problem,” said Fayed, who along with other concerned parents last spring formed the Coalition for Children, a group that advocates for data-driven, child-centered pandemic responses in Ontario. “For whatever reason, it seems acceptable to have a lack of standardized data when it comes to our children in schools.”
Fayed, who is also a professor at Queen’s University and an occupational therapist who specializes in child welfare research, added that legislators must make decisions about what is best for children.
“And the only way to do it very well and ethically is to have good data, and we don’t have it.”