In another pandemic twist for the K-12 system, teachers are now the ones — rather than students — being asked to stay after school to reluctantly take a test.
Unvaccinated school employees, with testing kits and disclosure papers in hand, trickled in and out of the senior gymnasium Monday night at Grant Park High School after refusing to provide proof of immunization against COVID-19.
Around 250 permanent staff in the Winnipeg School Division (five per cent of total employees) are subject to a new public health order that requires they submit negative rapid test results three times a week.
One of their thrice-weekly tests must be administered under observation of a nurse, an appointment that takes approximately 20 minutes to complete, at a designated division clinic.
“I didn’t even cry at my own dad’s funeral, but this has brought tears to my eyes,” said one teacher, who likened the new public health order — which is being followed by the overwhelming majority of staff without issue — to government coercion.
“Here’s where they’ve got me by the balls, so to speak: I love my f---ing job so f---ing much that I’m willing to go against my values on this, because I can’t leave my kids. I prayed to God, because I thought, should I go on a leave? But I couldn’t leave my kids.”
The Free Press spoke to a handful of employees in Manitoba’s largest school division — all of whom openly disclosed they are unvaccinated and declined to share their names — Monday outside the test site at Grant Park.
Misinformation, fringe perspectives and anti-vaccine propaganda were aplenty.
Asked about the new routine, one week after it was made mandatory provincewide, another unvaccinated teacher rolled his eyes. He expressed despair about how the order is “creating two different sects of society.”
Noting the unlikeliness he will contract the novel coronavirus and die from it, the teacher said there is no need to get the vaccine.
Since the pandemic was declared in March 2020, 1,237 people — almost two per cent of all 62,907 cases in Manitoba — have died from the virus, which has sent thousands to be treated in hospital for severe symptoms. The number of people who are experiencing long-term implications from their SARS‐CoV‐2 infections is unknown.
An educational assistant said she is also unconvinced about getting the vaccine because the risk of dying from COVID-19 is not great enough. Meantime, a division mechanic said he’s skeptical of the vaccine because fully immunized individuals have died of the virus, too.
Manitoba’s latest provincial surveillance data show 11 per cent of the people who died between Oct. 10-16 from COVID-19 were fully vaccinated. In comparison, nearly 67 per cent of deaths were among unvaccinated patients.
Both the division and unions that represent teachers and support staff in WSD have backed the requirement for staff to disclose vaccination status or seek frequent testing.
“We believe that policies surrounding vaccination and testing options for staff are responsible and reasonable, given guidance from public health on how to best manage COVID-19 and maintain in-person learning,” James Bedford, president of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, said in an emailed statement Tuesday.
WSD spokeswoman Radean Carter echoed those sentiments, saying the division’s main concern is ensuring children put into its care are kept safe.
One of the main concerns raised by unvaccinated employees who spoke to the Free Press was apparent government overreach.
“I’m not against vaccines, I’m against coercion or not having freedom of choice,” said one teacher, estimating the new protocol takes up to 3 1/2 hours out of his week, as he has to commute into the city to take a test.
Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press