Months into the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines, various sectors around the province have begun to implement vaccination policies for high-risk settings. On August 17th, 2021, the Ontario government announced that the COVID-19 Mandatory Vaccination Policy is required for specific environments, including post-secondary institutions and school employees. The policies include proof of full vaccination status or regular antigen testing, among others. Ontario has also now mandated, as of September 1st, 2021, that evidence of the COVID-19 vaccine is required for select settings.
The Ministry of Education will begin to introduce a vaccination disclosure policy for the 2021-2022 school year for publicly funded school board employees, private school staff, and all licensed child care facilities staff. Many Ontario Universities and Colleges have announced the same, requiring students and staff to show proof of vaccination. The educational school systems in the Greater Toronto Area include Toronto, York Region, Peel, and their Catholic School System counterparts. At this time, there is not a vigorous policy for COVID-19 vaccinations for students, only for their respective staff. This could, however, quickly change, pending approval on those individuals under age 12. Ontario Ministry of Health provides as current law that, unless there is a valid exemption, all children who attend a primary or secondary school must be immunized against a list of vaccines available as per the Immunization of School Pupils Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. I.1. The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has asked that the Ontario Government make the COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for all school children aged 12 and up.
The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has developed a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine procedure that requires that all TDSB staff, trustees, and visitors disclose and provide proof of vaccination status and require them to be fully vaccinated. However, if you are not vaccinated, TDSB will comply with all human rights obligations to accommodate employees legally entitled to any accommodation. Those individuals will be subjected to an education on the benefits of vaccination. These are subjected to change after September 9th, 2021. Similarly, various colleges and universities across Ontario are requiring those not vaccinated to attend a mandatory information session on the positives of the vaccine. This too may change but is in place for now to follow.
Possible Exemptions to Potential Policies:
Ontario's Health Protection and Promotion Act R.S.O. 1990, Chapter H7 allows a Medical Health Officer the ability to restrict students from attending school to prevent the spread of certain diseases. It is also now possible in Ontario to expel a student aged 8, the equivalent to grade 3 or below if this student potentially poses a risk to the safety of those at their respective school.
While policies continue to update for adults, there is still no clear indication of whether Ontario school systems will include the COVID-19 vaccine for students amongst the list of mandatory vaccines required to attend school. With students expected to be back in class full time starting the fall semester, Ontario school systems will have to outline policies and exemptions for students who are eligible to be vaccinated, the same which was done for those unable to wear a mask or other face covering. Parents can provide a valid exemption for non-vaccination for their children under the Immunization of Schools Pupil Act, R.S.O. 1990, c.I.1.
COVID-19 Consequences for Children at School:
Ontario schools are not typically liable for damages within school boundaries. If your child does contract COVID-19, it would be difficult to prove that this happened at school itself. This would also include proving negligence beyond reasonable doubt by your child's school as per the policies set forth by the Ministry of Education and the Ontario School Board policies.
While this unprecedented time for teachers, parents, and students has left little reassurance, with the start of the 2021-2022 fall semester, there are expected to be updated policies and procedures.
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