The Board of Trustees of Northern Gateway Public School Division (NGPS) recently discussed their dislike of school health mandates and how the province has left impossible decisions in their hands. The idea was brought forward by Trustee Gerry Steinke (Valleyview). “I placed this item on the agenda immediately after the Premier’s and Minister’s announcement on September 3, which stated schools are not required to implement masking, but that school boards will continue to set COVID-19 management policies as deemed appropriate,” he explained.
“It should be the concern of this board that the province, which has the constitutional responsibility for health, has placed a health-related role on our jurisdiction. For our Premier to hand off this responsibility of his to local governments is a complete denial of what the role of the provincial government must uphold. Simply put, this province has jurisdiction over health matters. School boards do not.”
Trustee Steinke then moved to send a letter from the board to Premier Kenney and the Education Minister. His motion read that the Board of Trustees of the NGPS Division have “fundamentally disagrees with school boards being given decision-making opportunities to set local COVID 19 management practices that differ from provincial rules.” He then spoke to his motion to explain why he felt this was an important step to take.
“I am fed up that the province has forced parents and other community members into a role of activism that need not be. This motion has nothing to do with whether people are for or against masks being worn in schools. I make the case on behalf of Northern Gateway that school boards must be respected for the role they were created to perform, and that role has nothing to do with making medical conclusions about the health of our students, if they wear masks or not.”
Trustee Steinke further explained that he believes in school board autonomy. “I have often used the line that I believe that local representatives can make the best decisions in the interests of the community. Not in a thousand years would I ever say that local representatives are to make decisions on matters in which they have no jurisdiction. It is an insult to the integrity of our board that our provincial leaders have slyly indicated their reason to let school boards alter provincial mandates and, at the same time, show provincial support for school board autonomy. This is hardly the time to play political football. I ask for trustees to support this motion.”
Trustee Jim Hailes (Fox Creek) expressed his agreement. “It’s an abdication of provincial responsibility, what they’ve done. They are looking at more of a political side as opposed to being responsible one way or another. To put this onto school boards and local authorities, we do not have the statistics, the information and everything else that the province has. They quit sharing the information and aren’t collecting a good part of it anymore, so this is totally not acceptable. As we’ve seen, it’s putting communities against each other. It’s not right.”
The trustee from Darwell, Sangudo and Mayerthorpe, Sherry Jeffreys, also agreed. “I think it’s regretful that school boards have been placed in this position by the government. We’re making decisions in pandemic response that ultimately fall to our provincial leaders and health authority. (I’m) disappointed that there wasn’t clearer direction given to schools across the province, and now each board is left trying to make their own decision as to what makes sense to their community. We’ve been let down by our government, and that’s the unfortunate part. I am in full support of trustee Steinke’s motion.”
The agreement continued with Trustee Judy Muir (Alberta Beach, Onoway, Rich Valley, Darwell). “All the comments that have been made, I agree with. I believe it is a total political move and has been given to school boards to deal with but not municipalities. It’s only school boards that were left out of the mix. I totally support the motion, so thank you for making it.” Just before the vote, Trustee Hailes suggested that the letter include the comments made by trustees during the discussion. Board Chair Linda Wigton (Whitecourt) also spoke in favour of the motion just before calling the vote, which then passed.
Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press