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'Sheer rage and frustration': York Region teachers question their exclusion from COVID-19 rapid testing program

Province rolls out take-home kits for every student, says educators can get them from public pickup locations
220721_LG_Rapid COVID testing Photo-crop
File photo/Village Media

York Region teachers union rep Muna Kadri said her colleagues expressed “sheer rage and frustration” when they found out they would not be provided rapid test kits.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation District 16 president said the situation has disappointed them. The province has rolled out a program to provide all students with rapid testing kits to take home over the winter break — but teachers were excluded from that. Any leftover kits are not available to staff. 

“Having (the surplus tests) rounded up and locked away after sacrificing two years to keep schools safe was a blow I don’t think we were prepared for,” she said. 

The province announced Nov. 18 it would send testing kits to every student. But school staff are excluded from that initiative, even as the omicron variant causes COVID-19 cases to rise, prompting educator unions to cry foul.

Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association York unit acting president Michael Totten said educators are stressed about the omicron situation.

“There's discomfort about the unknown. It’s been a lot of turmoil, obviously, in our profession,” Totten said. “I don’t think that is obviously helping with the matter.”

Minister of Education spokesperson Caitlin Clark said test kits are available to all Ontarians through holiday pop-up initiatives announced this week.

“We encourage Ontarians to take advantage of these testing opportunities and to sign up for a booster shot to keep families safe during the holiday season,” she said.

Totten said that is a questionable alternative given the crowds and lineups experienced at the pickup locations so far.

“While the gesture is great, that you can get kits this way, I’m not sure the rationale is totally sound,” he said. “Frustration is, is this really the best plan when we were able to send them to schools for staff? Why didn’t we just send extra for teachers at the same time?” 

Some school boards in the province have opted to pay for extra kits for staff during the holidays out of their own budgets. But neither of York Region’s boards have opted to do that.

Kadri said their union made the request, but the board rejected it. 

She said teachers have been repeatedly upset by the pushback to efforts to increase safety, such as getting testing kits at the start of the school year and being unable to wear higher quality N-95 masks.

“Our teachers have told us they want students learning in buildings safely, but at every turn, the decision-makers have taken away our ability to provide that safety,” she said. “We’re going to spend the next two weeks advocating for the protections that we know we need to keep schools open safely.”