The Peel arm of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) is calling on Peel’s top doctor to extend school closures in Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon due to high rates of COVID-19 infections in the region.
On Jan. 6, Gail Bannister-Clarke, the president of the Peel Elementary Teachers’ Local (PETL), called on Peel Medical Officer of Health Dr. Lawrence Loh to recommend that school closures—currently in effect for elementary schools until Jan. 11—be extended.
In a letter, Bannister-Clarke said that, to date, there have been 15 outbreaks in Peel District School Board (PDSB) elementary schools, adding that almost half of them occurred last month.
“Approximately 300 of the over 700 cases present in our elementary schools this school year occurred in December,” she wrote, adding that there were only 14 school days that month.
“These numbers reflect the swelling COVID case count in our communities. We are steadily seeing about 450 new cases of COVID per day in the Region of Peel.”
In the letter, Bannister-Clarke argued that the numbers—523 new cases were reported in Peel on Jan. 6—do not support a return to in-class learning on Monday, even though the province has indicated that in-person classes will resume for students throughout Ontario next week as scheduled.
“There is nothing to indicate that it would be any safer to return next week. The issue cannot be effectively addressed with a province-wide, one-size-fits-all response. Nothing has changed. A regional, data-driven response is required,” Bannister-Clarke wrote, adding that there’s too much uncertainty surrounding where, exactly, new cases are coming from.
While some public health officials have said that schools do not appear to be a significant source of transmission, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie recently told insauga.com that Loh is considering advocating for a temporary suspension of in-person learning in the region.
“We do know that [COVID] is being brought into our schools. We do know that outbreaks are occurring. The measures taken to date have not successfully reduced the risk, as the growing number of cases in schools clearly shows. We all agree that in-person learning provides the best educational experience for a child, but the health and safety of students and staff must be the top priority,” Bannister-Clark wrote.
“Dr. Loh, you have the power to give the targeted, regionally-based response that is required. We are asking that Peel Public Health direct that schools in Peel Region remain closed to in-person learning until the data support a safe return.”