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Several Toronto private schools requiring students, staff to be vaccinated for the fall
Aug. 26, 2021
Maria Sarrouh

At least three private schools in Ontario will require students, staff and faculty to be vaccinated against COVID-19 ahead of the coming academic term.

University of Toronto Schools, Branksome Hall and Upper Canada College will mandate proof of vaccination for employees and eligible students (born in 2009 or earlier) and employees before in-person class resumes in the fall.

“The reaction from parents and staff has been overwhelmingly favourable,” said a spokesperson for University of Toronto Schools, in an email to the Star on Wednesday.

In the absence of proof, University of Toronto Schools will accept a letter from a family physician or specialist confirming the need for medical accommodation, the spokesperson said. In cases of religious or creed exemption, the school “reserves the right” to request a letter from a religious leader or community.

Failure to provide timely proof of vaccination by staff will result in disciplinary measures including suspension without pay, the spokesperson said. Students that don’t show proof will be limited to learning online.

As of Aug. 25, 99 per cent of staff have provided proof of single-dose vaccination and 96 per cent have provided proof of both doses. The school is collecting receipts from students, but couldn’t share the aggregate figures.

Students and staff will need to have at least one dose of the vaccine by Sept. 1, or the first day of school, and be fully immunized (both jabs plus 14 days) by Oct. 15, the spokesperson said. Parents received a letter confirming the vaccine mandate Aug. 16. Since then, the school has updated its policy to include mandatory rapid antigen screening three times a week for all students and staff.

At Upper Canada College, employees will be required to provide proof before Aug. 30, in the form of confirmation given at the time of receiving vaccination, such as an email or record from a clinic, hospital, pharmacy or medical facility. The school is requiring students to have full vaccination no later than Oct. 18, a spokesperson said.

Exemptions will “only be considered for defined medical conditions as determined by a clinician and/or for reasons of religion or creed.”

“As UCC returns to in-person learning, remote learning will only be made available as an accommodation due to extenuating medical circumstances or visa travel restrictions that impact a student’s ability to attend in person,” the spokesperson added.

In addition to mandatory vaccination and disclosure requirements, the school is implementing free, routine rapid antigen screening for all students ineligible to receive vaccination (born before 2009). The school’s community was informed about the mandatory vaccination policy Monday, a decision that was met with “positive” and “supportive” responses, the spokesperson said.

Similarly to Upper Canada College, Branksome Hall communicated its mandatory disclosure policy to parents, employees senior and middle students on Monday. The school will accommodate requests for exemptions based on medical grounds or for reasons of religion or creed, a spokesperson said. Proof of second-dose vaccination should be provided by Oct. 25.

“The response from our community has been resoundingly positive, with supportive and appreciative feedback shared with the school,” the spokesperson said.

The school has also partnered with the University of Toronto Creative Destruction Lab’s (CDL) Rapid Screening Consortium to implement free, mandatory, at-home rapid antigen screening for all students and employees, the spokesperson added.

The Star contacted several other GTA private schools, including St. Clement’s School, the Toronto French School and Royal St. George’s College. They did not respond to requests by deadline.

The three private schools that confirmed they are issuing vaccination mandates are situated in wealthier neighbourhoods that have had increased access to COVID-19 immunization since the rollout began.

For instance, Branksome Hall is in the Rosedale-Moore Park neighbourhood, which has had a consistently high vaccination rate, compared to other neighbourhoods where residents face health disparities. The neighbourhood now has about a 70 per cent vaccination rate, which is close to the average for Toronto.

Similarly, Upper Canada College is located in the Yonge-St. Clair neighbourhood, which currently has a vaccination rate of about 75 per cent.

Unions and parents have been outspoken about public schools enacting mandatory vaccination policies that would cover hundreds of thousands of students. For independent schools with smaller student bodies, they have not received the same level of public scrutiny on the issue.

The Ministry of Education said at a press conference Aug. 17 that it’s planning to implement a vaccination disclosure policy for public school employees and for private school staff.