Saskatchewan Rivers Public School Division, in alignment with recommendations from Public Health Officials, announced plans to add additional safety measures to further protect student and staff from exposure to COVID-19.
Those measures mean staff must provide evidence of vaccination or proof of negative COVID test. The school division said they will make accommodations for staff who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other approved reasons. The school division stated in a press release that local Medical Health Officers from across the province have recommended vaccination requirements in school divisions.
“The policy had been written. It was just a matter of getting it out to all staff so that they can be aware of it,” Sask. Rivers board chair Barry Hollick said. “There are dates they have got to meet.”
All school division employees must disclose their vaccination status by Oct 15 at 4:30 p.m. on a Vaccine Verification Form. Employees that cannot provide proof through the Vaccine Verification Form process must provide proof to a School Division designated official.
Employees who are unable or who are unwilling to disclose their vaccination status must undergo COVID-19 self-testing. Staff must have their second vaccination by Nov. 8 to be exempt from providing a negative COVID-19 test.
“If you have read it, you can see there are some key dates there that are pretty important that they have to follow,” Hollick said. “This gives them a window of opportunity to make the appointments they need to.”
School division trustees discussed the new measures at their regular meeting on Monday. The measures were introduced in open session, but further discussion took place in a closed session where the board made a decision to release the procedure. They made the official announcement on Tuesday.
Hollick the Government of Saskatchewan also announced its move to a proof of vaccination or negative test policy for employees on Sept. 16, and encouraged school divisions to do the same.
“This came about as a result of the Premier initiating the provincial moves. Then he encouraged all large employers in the province to follow suit,” Hollick said. “In Prince Albert I am sure, next to the health region, we are probably the next biggest employer.”
Hollick said school board chairs across the province have held meeting since the start of the pandemic to discuss the situation and how it impacts students and families. He said they looked at what other school division, like the Regina Public School Division, were doing. They also consulted the Saskatchewan School Boards Association (SSBA) before making the decision.
“We felt that this is the best thing that we can do for the safety of our students and everybody who works for us,” Hollick explained. “We feel it is a real positive move.”
The division also worked closely with local health region officials, Hollick said. It’s one of several reasons he’s confident the policy will reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.
“Whenever we have moved to close schools in the past, we have always done that through a consultation with the local health authority,” he explained. “Certainly we follow the provincial guidelines, but when something happens locally that's the source that we go to.”
The procedures and measures can be re-examined at any time if they aren’t working as intended.
“This isn’t carved in stone,” Hollick stated.
“Right now, the fact that the variant is spreading as quickly as it is, is something that everybody is concerned about. That is why we have taken this action, but if things change and things seem to get mitigated, then we may take another look at the policy. Right now, we feel that the policy that our administration has put in place is something that we approve of.”
This procedure applies to all employees who will have access to a School Division facility. Individual contract service providers will be considered. This consideration will be case by case depending on current contract, and regular and ongoing contact within two metres of students and staff as a result of the service provided.
In school division press release, director of education Robert Bratvold said recent days were busy ones while the division prepared policy details.
“We know that CUPE National and the provincial STF supports vaccination, but we worked with local CUPE and STF representatives, and with Health, SSBA, legal, and others as we developed and finalized the Admin Procedure,” Bratvold said.
There will be some time for staff to be able to comply by ensuring vaccination, arranging for regular testing or applying for accommodation.
“The Board has had several discussions about this topic, and recognizes that this decision will have both positive and negative impacts on staff and on our operations,” Hollick said in the release.
“But the Board was ready to make the decision. Student and staff safety is paramount to providing an excellent learning environment.”
The motion to develop the vaccine protocols was initially introduced at the board's Sept. 22 Meeting before returning on Oct. 4 for further discussion.
In a further motion passed on Monday evening, the board stated that they will comply with all of the aspects of the new Administrative Procedure.
“So we are not only doing it for employees, the board themselves are going to follow as well,” Hollick said.
“The board decided that if we are expecting our employees to do this, then certainly trustees, who are in and out of school and in and out of the Education Centre, (can too). We feel this has to be something that trustees will follow as well,” he added.
Hollick, as a representative of the board and division, encouraged everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated especially with the presence of the Delta variant.
Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald