Staff who don’t comply with vaccine procedures won’t be terminated: school boards

WELLINGTON COUNTY – Local school board officials say while staff members who don’t comply with board vaccination disclosure procedures could be placed on unpaid leave, failing to abide likely won’t result in termination.

Prior to the start of school in September, the Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB) and Wellington Catholic District School Board (WCDSB) put out vaccine procedures to ensure all staff were fully vaccinated and for those who weren’t, measures were put in place.

As part of their respective procedures, all UGDSB and WCDSB staff and trustees are required to complete a COVID-19 attestation form and disclose their vaccination status.

Staff and trustees who are not fully vaccinated are required to complete regular rapid antigen testing twice a week, with kits provided to staff, as well as complete a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination educational session.

According to the UGDSB website, as of Oct. 6, 4,302 (87.3 per cent) of its 4,925 permanent staff have attested to being fully vaccinated.

Of the remaining staff, 14 (0.28%) have provided a documented medical exemption and 351 (7.1%) are either partially vaccinated or have not yet submitted an attestation form.

The numbers on the WCDSB website show 1,143 (88.3%) of its 1,294 employees have been fully vaccinated with one documented medical exemption and 67 (5.2%) have not submitted an attestation.

UGDSB director of education Peter Sovran said the board initially had to determine how many staff the procedure applied to, adding it took a while to reach everyone.

“In the beginning you would have seen the numbers be a bit lower but after a number of reach outs from our human resource department, including individual reach outs, we’ve seen a really significant number of our staff making sure that they have either disclosed that they are fully vaccinated or that an exemption applies and they are applying for the rapid antigen testing,” Sovran explained.

“This number tends to fluctuate because it’s a combination of permanent staff and also casual staff and that changes,” he added.

Sovran said all permanent staff were notified the attestation needed to be completed.

“It was binary – either you completed it and you indicated that you were fully vaccinated or not, or, if you didn’t complete it, you’re automatically in the category of not fully vaccinated and therefore must complete the educational video and the rapid antigen testing.”

For members that did not attest to being fully vaccinated, Sovran said they were sent personalized letters detailing the necessity to either complete the attestation or submit the bi-weekly antigen testing.

The letters also indicated noncompliance could result in disciplinary action.

“So the expectation was made very clear. You can’t come into work, you can’t come into our schools if you either have not been fully vaccinated or you’re not completing the rapid antigen testing.”

He explained for those who didn’t comply with regular testing, the first step would be that an unpaid leave would be put in place until they were able to satisfy the requirements.

“They would not be permitted to come to their place of employment, into one of our schools and are therefore unable to complete their tasks and so they would be placed on unpaid leave.

“What we’re really pleased is that, and this is credit to our human resources department, they’ve been working with each individual and we know that through their efforts there are reasons why we don’t have 100 per cent compliance yet.”

Sovran said the vast majority of those that haven’t completed the attestation fall under the category of casual or occasional staff, which includes a number of retired principals or vice principals who often come back to help out.

“We have not been able to reach many of them or many of them have not worked in our system for a number of years now and that’s why our number isn’t at the 100 per cent level yet.”

He noted while the board supports direction from public health, it’s not so much about increasing the vaccination rates, reiterating staff have two options – either they’re fully vaccinated or are participating in biweekly rapid antigen testing.

“That’s what we’ve been working on, that’s what will bring us up to 100 per cent, it’s not about saying that you must be fully vaccinated.”

WCDSB director of education Mike Glazier said the board didn’t necessarily see an uptake in the number of staff being vaccinated but it did take time for the board to reach out to every staff member for their attestations.

“We’ve been collecting the information and we have a very high response rate,” Glazier explained. “Currently the number of board employees and trustees who have submitted an attestation is 93 per cent.”

He added there are some instances where the board is still working to track down some of its employees to ensure they’ve completed the attestation, but the board’s vaccination rates have remained steady throughout the process.

Glazier said as per MOE guidelines, there are two paths employees can take. One path being full vaccinated or, for  those who don’t fall under a medical exemption, undergoing regular rapid antigen testing.

“They have to disclose their results twice weekly and it’s on a set schedule that they submit that information to us and obviously if the person does not pass the rapid antigen screening then they have to go get a PCR through public health,” which he added is in addition to the daily screening all staff and students complete.

“If there is someone who is unvaccinated or partially vaccinated … then they have to submit to that rapid antigen testing at least twice a week and share those results with us.”

Glazier said as of now, as long as staff submit the rapid antigen testing, they can continue to work. He also noted if they had a staff member who was not submitting their results to the board, then they would likely be placed on unpaid leave.

“So there is a responsibility on the employee to ensure that they are either fully vaccinated, submitting to the rapid antigen testing and submitted those results or the other path is if they don’t do that, then they will be placed on an unpaid leave,” Glazier explained.

He said in order to achieve a higher vaccination rate among staff, the board is continuing to promote information provided by public health and ensure all employees are aware of it.

He added those who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated are required to complete an educational program supplied by the MOE.

With the first month of school under their belt, Glazier said schools are in great shape following the return to in person learning.

“People are happy to be back seeing their friends, seeing their colleagues and it’s a real joyful feeling within our schools at this time and we’ve been fortunate to date to have very limited cases within our schools,” he explained.

“So we’re just hopeful that that will continue to be the trend through the remainder of this fall and into the remainder of the year as well.”