Sask. schools shouldn't exclude unvaccinated students from extracurricular activities: education minister

·3 min read
Education minister Dustin Duncan says he doesn't think it’s “appropriate” for eligible students who choose not to be vaccinated to not be allowed in the classroom or not not take part in other school activities.  (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)
Education minister Dustin Duncan says he doesn't think it’s “appropriate” for eligible students who choose not to be vaccinated to not be allowed in the classroom or not not take part in other school activities. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)

Saskatchewan's education minister Dustin Duncan is directing the province's school divisions to allow eligible unvaccinated students to attend and participate in extracurricular activities.

"If they [eligible students] choose not to be vaccinated, I don't think it's appropriate to say that they can't be in the classroom or to take part in other school activities," Duncan told reporters on Wednesday.

Duncan said parents in his constituency of Weyburn expressed concerns to him about the proof of vaccination policy at the girls provincial volleyball championship taking place this Friday and Saturday.

CBC News has asked the Saskatchewan High Schools Athletic Association what the proof of vaccination policy is for the tournament but has not yet received a response. The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) declared Weyburn Comprehensive School a COVID outbreak site on Nov. 13.

In a letter sent to all school division board chairs on Wednesday, Duncan wrote that, under the Education Act, all students are to be afforded the opportunity to fully participate in athletic and arts events, provided they are asymptomatic and not under an isolation order because they have COVID-19 or are a close contact of a positive case.

Duncan said there haven't been any discussions yet about what the government will do if school divisions challenge the direction.

Duncan said Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab was consulted on this move and supports it.

School divisions respond

Carla Beck, the Saskatchewan NDP's education critic, said school boards received a letter from the ministry of health on Monday stating that they have the ability to implement vaccination policies.

CBC News reached out to the four largest school divisions in Regina and Saskatoon and heard back from three of them.

Saskatoon Public Schools Division said it is discussing the possibility of a vaccination requirement for secondary student athletes.

Meanwhile, Regina Catholic School Division said it's waiting for more clarification on Duncan's letter.

"As of now, we are not aware of situations in any of our facilities where proof of vaccination has been requested for a student to participate in co-curricular events," wrote Twylla West, the division's communications and media coordinator, in an email.

"We are aware of events which are impacted by restricted access in external facilities (such as hockey and curling). In these situations, the mandatory vaccine rules involved are that of the venue, and not created by the Regina Catholic School Division."

Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools said it doesn't currently have a requirement for students participating in extracurricular activities to be vaccinated, and that Duncan's direction adds "another dimension" to the division's planning or safe extracurricular opportunities.

Sask. Teachers Federation slams Duncan's direction

Patrick Maze, the president of the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation (STF), slammed Duncan's decision.

He sais Duncan should instead be encouraging people to get vaccinated.

"If I were a parent who has done the right thing and gone and got my kids vaccinated in order for them to fully participate in school and school activities, I would be really frustrated," Maze said.

"I don't think the government has really thought this one through carefully."

STF is calling for a vaccine mandate for students, including those five to 11 when a COVID vaccine is approved for them.

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