Dear Minister Elliot,
I’m writing to you on behalf of the thousands of families in my riding with children who will be returning to schools in a few short weeks.
I believe that COVID-19 surveillance testing needs to be conducted for students, families, and education staff serving schools in all boards in high-risk areas identified by Public Health. Testing should take place prior to the reopening of schools, and continue into the beginning of the school year to ensure a smooth and safe return to school that is sustained.
Yesterday, I listened to the Toronto District School Board’s presentation on returning to school, and it is apparent that the funding that government has made available is insufficient for a safe back to school plan. I am deeply concerned about the safety of students and education workers in my riding of Scarborough-Guildwood, which remains a COVID-19 hotspot. Toronto Public Health has identified 9 public schools in my riding that are in the highest-risk areas for transmission of COVID-19: Elizabeth Simcoe Jr. PS, Jack Miner Sr. PS, Poplar Road Jr. PS, Guildwood Jr. PS, Heather Heights Jr. PS, Henry Hudson Sr. PS, Highcastle PS, Military Trail, George B. Little PS, and Ben Heppner Vocal Music Academy. I am also concerned about the coterminous boards located in these areas in the Toronto Catholic District School Board and the French Catholic and Public boards.
These areas are disproportionately home to Indigenous, Black, South Asian, Arab, other racialized communities and new Canadians. Many of these schools are predominantly located in low-income areas, which as we know, are at higher risk of COVID-19 transmission with fewer options for self-isolation.
While out in my riding, I have met with local parents and families who are worried about safely sending their children back to school. They expressed serious concerns that physical distancing will not be possible in classrooms, which puts entire communities at risk. Parents across my riding have gotten in touch with me to express that there is little confidence in the government’s plan to keep their children safe.
We must work together and do all we can to prevent a second wave, including taking proactive steps to keep schools safe. I am calling on your government to provide funding and resources for testing for students and staff before and during the first week of school. This will give students, families, and education staff more confidence in their safe return to school.
Thank you for your consideration and response to this urgent request.