Sask. teacher pleading with province to prioritize school staff for COVID-19 vaccine after testing positive

·3 min read
Teacher Victoria Dyck has joined other teachers and school divisions in calling for school staff to be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccinations.  (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images - image credit)
Teacher Victoria Dyck has joined other teachers and school divisions in calling for school staff to be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccinations. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images - image credit)

Victoria Dyck is joining other Saskatchewan educators and school divisions in calling for the provincial government to prioritize school staff for COVID-19 vaccinations.

Dyck, a teacher with the Prairie Spirit School Division, has written an open letter addressed to the premier, the ministers of education and health, and the chief medical health officer, among others.

Dyck told CBC News she decided to write the letter after testing positive for COVID-19 and learning about the death of Victor Thunderchild, a much-loved teacher in Prince Albert who died after contracting the disease.

"I was feeling very frustrated that, time and time again, the pleas from school staff, and school boards, and divisions have been overlooked by our provincial government, and watching an educator pass away from COVID-19 was heart wrenching," she said.

In the letter, Dyck pleads for the province to offer vaccines to school staff as soon as possible, saying it's becoming more difficult to enforce COVID-19 protocols.

"Victor Thunderchild did not deserve to die. His message does not deserve to die either. Our school staff needs to be vaccinated now," she writes.

Dyck said she recently tested positive for COVID-19, despite her and her family diligently following protocols set out by the provincial government.

"The scariest part is that public health can't tell me how I got it. They don't know. Our bubble is so small that the only place I could have gotten it is my workplace, the school I teach in," the letter says.

Dyck and her husband — who's also a teacher — have been deemed medically vulnerable after he underwent chemotherapy last year and spent seven months in hospital.

They both had appointments to get vaccinated, but now Dyck will have to wait 90 days because she tested positive.

Dyck said she has experienced very mild symptoms and worries other asymptomatic carriers may unknowingly expose students or staff who are medically vulnerable to the virus.

Teachers left out of priority list

Last week the province gave new priority to some front-line workers who hadn't been included in Phase 1 of Saskatchewan's vaccination plan. When asked why teachers weren't included, Health Minister Paul Merriman said the police officers and firefighters who were work in "uncontrolled environments."

Dyck took issue with Merriman's statement.

"I was really disappointed to hear Minister Merriman talk about a classroom being a controlled environment," she said.

"Students have had so much asked of them. They are doing their very, very best, but they are tired. They obviously don't like to be told to pull your mask up and to not move around the classroom and stuff like that. Those are things that kids just naturally want to do."

On Saturday, CBC News requested an interview with Education Minister Dustin Duncan for a response to the calls for teachers to be vaccinated, but he was not made available.

The Ministry of Education sent a statement offering its condolences to Thunderchild's family and loved ones.

The ministry acknowledged teachers have "put extraordinary effort into the safety and well-being of students," but the statement did not say teachers will be prioritized for vaccination. Instead, it encouraged teachers to get vaccinations as their age group becomes eligible.

"Saskatchewan school divisions continue to have regular communication with their local medical health officers in making appropriate local decisions to enable education to continue as safely as possible," the statement said.

Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools, Prairie Spirit School Division and Saskatoon Public Schools have sent letters to the province asking for prioritized vaccines for school staff, as have three school divisions in the Regina area.