The Alberta Teachers' Association said Tuesday it would support the government or individual school boards that implement a vaccine mandate for its teachers.
ATA president Jason Schilling said support would be contingent on the policy following specific conditions outlined by the association, including following the collective agreement and accommodating people who are unable to be vaccinated.
"We have hundreds of thousands of students under the age of 12 who cannot be vaccinated right now. So one way that we know from talking to medical professionals and others that the best way to protect those kids — mostly elementary school kids — is for the adults around them to be vaccinated," he said.
"And so we're encouraging our members to be as safe as possible and to look at this as another tool that can be used to help keep COVID out of our schools."
Schilling said if school boards or the government decide to mandate vaccinations for teachers under the conditions outlined by the ATA, they would not support teachers in challenging it.
"School boards will have to ensure that employee privacy is respected as much as possible and personal information will have to be stored securely, but this is an area where a balancing of rights and responsibilities is warranted," Schilling said.
CBE also advocating for mandatory vaccines
The Calgary Board of Education said it is aware of the ATA's support for a vaccine mandate and said it's something the board of trustees is advocating for for all employees in the education sector.
"In the meantime, we continue to engage with Alberta Education and provincial health authorities for government direction on vaccination," the CBE said in an email.
"Our current focus is on promoting vaccination to all eligible employees. The CBE has repeatedly encouraged all eligible employees to get vaccinated as soon as possible."
CCSD will not mandate vaccines
The Calgary Catholic School District said it strongly supports vaccination to reduce the threats and concerns of COVID-19 — but it will not mandate vaccines for staff.
"At this point, CCSD will not make vaccines mandatory for teachers or school staff. Vaccination, together with rapid testing, can help us further protect our students and staff," the district said in an email.
It said the school district has received a supply of rapid testing kits that are available as an option for every CCSD staff member to test themselves weekly until Christmas.
"We are hopeful that the government of Alberta will continue to provide rapid testing kits and other resources and support to school districts."
Advocacy group agrees
Wing Li, spokesperson for the advocacy group Support Our Students, said they agree with mandating vaccinations for education workers.
"We see that over 200 schools are on outbreak as of today. At least that's only what we know is out there. This is an urgent situation, and we're seeing cases rise in children, so the layer of protection is essential at this point," Li said.
Introducing a policy to immunize education workers would be a step forward, but not a silver bullet, Li added. She said contact tracing also needs to be reinstated.
In its latest round of restrictions introduced earlier this month, the province added mandatory masking for students in Grades 4 and up, as well as staff and teachers in all grades.
The University of Alberta, the University of Calgary and at least seven other Alberta post-secondary institutions require all students, staff and visitors to be fully vaccinated to attend their campuses.