Toronto Public Health to close Thorncliffe Park PS over COVID-19 outbreak

Toronto Public Health has opted to close the East York school just days after a testing blitz revealed 19 cases of the novel coronavirus among students and staff — a number which has gone up since then.

3 teachers refused to work at East York school with 26 cases of the virus

Thorncliffe Park Public School in East York will close for several days after an outbreak of COVID-19 that has spread to 26 students and staff members. (CBC News)

Toronto Public Health has opted to close Thorncliffe Park Public School just days after a testing blitz revealed 19 cases of the novel coronavirus among students and staff — a number which has gone up since then. 

"Based on the current situation, all students and staff at the school [will] be dismissed until at least Wednesday, December 9, 2020," wrote Thorncliffe Park principal Jeff Crane in a letter to the school's families on Thursday evening. 

The school recently became the first in the city to participate in a voluntary asymptomatic testing pilot project. The results, released Sunday night, found 18 students and one staff member with the virus. 

The number has now grown to 26 cases, making Thorncliffe Park the hardest hit school in Toronto. Twenty-four of the cases are among students, two of them are among staff members. 

Crane says any students who were not already learning at home will now do so, adding that teachers will begin contacting students soon to make arrangements. 

Toronto Public Health is asking that all students and staff self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19, and, if any develop, to get a test at an assessment centre. 

3 teachers had refused to work

Earlier on Thursday, before the closure was announced, three of the school's 30 staff members had refused to work, citing an unsafe work environment. 

Jennifer Brown with the Elementary Teacher's Federation of Ontario stood with them, telling CBC Toronto that "they do not feel safe within their school." 

In the wake of the testing project, 14 classes were asked to self-isolate, but the decision was made to keep the school open. 

The Ministry of Labour is investigating the teachers' claims. 

They aren't the first teachers to walk off the job in Toronto due to COVID-19: in early November, the entire teaching staff and some staff members refused to work at a Scarborough public school experiencing an outbreak.

4% of school tested positive

The Ontario government announced this month that it was introducing voluntary testing for asymptomatic students, faculty and staff at schools in regions with high infection rates.

According to a letter sent by Thorncliffe Park's principal, four per cent of the school tested positive for the virus. The test positivity rate in the broader Thorncliffe Park community is 16 per cent. 

The expanded testing will be provided for four weeks in schools in Toronto, Peel, York and Ottawa.

Those who show symptoms or have been exposed to a COVID-19 case should continue to stay home and get tested at an assessment centre, the province said.

With files from Ali Chiasson and Adam Carter