London

'I can't go back to another lockdown': London teacher calls for vaccine mandate

A London, Ont., teacher fears that more lockdowns and a return to home learning could be in store if the province doesn't impose COVID-19 vaccine mandates for the fall semester.

Union says they'll follow the province's lead when it comes to requiring proof of COVID-19 shots

So far, the Ontario government has refused to impose a vaccine mandate for public schools. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

If staff and students at many Ontario universities have to show proof they've been vaccinated for COVID-19 or provide a recent negative test to be on campus, why not in the province's high schools? 

It's a question London teacher Mary Golding is asking with the start of classes now just weeks away and the delta variant of COVID-19 pushing case numbers in the wrong direction, with most of the new cases among those who are unvaccinated. 

"My biggest worry is that we're just going to get shut down again," she said. "We can see in the news that the numbers are climbing by the day. I'm worried that the numbers are going to spike and we're going to get locked down again," she said. "I can't go back to another lockout."

Golding has taught at Clarke Road Secondary since 2007. 

She's also a mother of two young children. When students were kept home due to COVID-19 last semester, it meant she had to teach from home but also parent her two kids while they were in classes via video chat. 

"I'm sure my students got a lot of laughs. I'd be teaching my students and my kids would suddenly run into the room, asking for help or having a breakdown of their own, and it would all be live on Zoom. It was very difficult." 

But more than an inconvenience, Golding says it's unfair that those who choose not to be vaccinated are putting at risk those who've had the shot. 

"My parents and my in-laws are in their 70s, so if I were to get COVID, they could get very sick," she said. "It's not right that in this population a small number of people are able to make this choice not to get vaccinated but the rest of us are kind of stuck and worried about whether or not we're going to be able to have our schools open."

Province doesn't support school vaccine mandate

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce has said he won't mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for schools, though there is already a list of nine diseases — everything from measles to polio — students are required to be vaccinated against. 

Premier Doug Ford has also so far resisted following in the steps of Quebec and moving to a vaccine passport system. 

Last week, many Ontario post-secondary schools — including Western University — moved to various forms of vaccine mandates for staff and students on campus. 

Golding points out that the group she'll be teaching is 100 per cent eligible for the COVD-19 shot. 

According to numbers posted on the Middlesex-London Health Unit's website, 69.7 per cent of local residents older than 12 years old have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. However, in the cohort of people aged 12 to 17, that number drops to 57.8 per cent.

Karen Littlewood, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF), said she supports widespread vaccination, but added that the decision to bring in a vaccine mandate rests with the provincial government, not teachers' unions.

"It's a little bit different than universities that can make the decision on their own. Our decisions are made the government and we stand by them and support our members," she said.

"We're not opposed to a mandatory vaccine if the government decides to go that way," she said. "We do not want to contribute to the fourth wave that is already happening. Children are at immense risk right now."

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