INNISFAIL - The 12,000-student Chinook’s Edge School Division (CESD) will seek further information, including legal opinions, before deciding whether to consider implementing mandatory COVID-19 vaccination requirements for staff, including teachers, say officials.
On Oct. 5 the provincial government said it was encouraging school authorities to develop policies that require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for teachers, staff and anyone who enters a school.
The policies would not cover students, who cannot legally be denied access to schools based on immunization status.
During the Oct. 6 CESD board meeting trustees discussed the matter at length and then instructed administration to gather more information before reporting back to the board, said superintendent Kurt Sacher.
Both Calgary and Edmonton public school divisions recently announced mandatory vaccination or proof of negative COVID-19 tests for staff, including teachers.
In an Albertan interview, Sacher explained that information being gathered will include specific guidance and support the government will be providing to school divisions, the expected timing for additional vaccine options (such as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine), privacy considerations, policy changes that may be required, and the division’s ability to maintain operations.
Specifically regarding privacy considerations, he said, “The board is really concerned about balancing safety will personal decisions. Specifically with respect to rapid tests there’s a number of privacy considerations. It is critically important to respect people’s personal private medical information; there is very strong legislation when it comes to personal private medical information.”
Regarding possible policy changes, he said, “If the board were to contemplate going in that direction (mandatory vaccination or test policy) there would almost certainly be policy changes required. They (trustees) are going to want to know what that would look like.”
As far as the possible impact on staffing levels, he said, “You could end up having some disruption to your ability to sustain staffing levels the way you are currently proceeding,”
Asked if administration will be consulting with Calgary and/or Edmonton public school board officials, he said, “We certainly would have a plan to look at other jurisdictions. We would be more inclined to consult with other rural boards.”
Administration will be speaking with Alberta Teachers Association officials as part of the information gathering process, he said.
Asked if administration will also be seeking legal opinions as part of the process, he said yes.
Although an exact time for administration to report back to the board has not been set, Sacher said, “We are hoping to come back to them sometime in November. We are going to need a good amount of time to access the information. The board is interested in rushing into a decision on something that is so important to people. They want it done well.
“There is a complexity to this that I think requires quite a bit of effort on the part of administration and they (trustees) understand the time that we are going to need.”
CESD continues to “strongly encourage staff to be fully vaccinated and continue taking all steps available to protect the safety of students and each other,” he said.
In related news, the division expects to hear further details this week from the provincial government regarding the role of schools in renewed contact tracing, he said.
“The general understanding that we have is that the schools will have to move some of the generic pieces forward in the first month and then in November Alberta Health will be on line,” he said. “We need more of the details and time to figure it out.”
As of Oct. 8, several area schools were on alert status. Ross Ford Elementary School in Didsbury, Innisfail High School, Ecole Deer Meadow School in Olds and Sundre High School all had between two and four reported cases. Bowden Grandview School, Ecole Innisfail Middle School, Ecole John Wilson Elementary School in Innisfail and Ecole Olds Elementary School all had between five and nine reported cases as of Oct. 8. River Valley School in Sundre was on outbreak status with 10 or more reported cases.