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Edmonton school boards offer work exemptions to select staff due to COVID-19

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Edmonton school boards offer work exemptions to select staff due to COVID-19
WATCH: Some Alberta school staff are waiting to hear what this fall will look like for them. For a few, the risk is higher than others. Julia Wong has more on what accommodations Edmonton school boards are allowing for select employees due to COVID-19 – Aug 21, 2020

Back to school is just around the corner but select Edmonton teachers, and other school staff, are waiting to hear if they will be heading back to in-person learning.

At both Edmonton Catholic School District and Edmonton Public Schools, school employees with health concerns or other unique circumstances can apply for exemptions for temporary work accommodations due to COVID-19.

READ MORE: Symptoms, confirmed cases and outbreaks: How Alberta plans to handle COVID-19 in schools

Options can include either working from home, working at the site with extra supports or accessing leave entitlements.

Lori Nagy, spokesperson for Edmonton Catholic School District, said the district is still accepting exemptions and there have been “fairly low” numbers of requests.

Megan Normandeau, a spokesperson for Edmonton Public Schools, said the school board does not have final numbers to share but is reviewing requests, which will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

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READ MORE: Coronavirus: Alberta’s top doctor sending her children to school, continues to defend re-entry plan

Peter Kuebel, 57, has taught at Ross Sheppard School in Edmonton for roughly 30 years. He teaches social studies and is also a career counsellor.

Kuebel was keeping a close eye on COVID-19 due to a liver transplant two years ago and was relieved when classes moved online. He was also very careful about his daily routines.

“I didn’t leave the house other than to go to the grocery store. I haven’t been to a shopping mall,” he said.

Life after the transplant had to be lived differently, Kuebel said. He was told not to swim in lakes, dig in the dirt with bare hands or eat sushi. He is also required to take two medications that suppress his immune system to ensure his body does not reject the donated liver.

READ MORE: Rallies across Alberta call for more school funding ahead of fall return

Because of health concerns, Kuebel has applied for an exemption to work from home once the school year starts.

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“The worry, of course, is any infection could lead to me being hospitalized and my risk of death is significantly greater than somebody who isn’t immunosuppressed,” he said.

“The family physician said, ‘Of course, I think this is a no-brainer. You certainly would be much safer to work from home.’”

The long-time teacher is expecting to find out later this month whether he is granted the exemption; if not, there are other plans in place.

“I’m not going to go back to work no matter what. I’m lucky I’m at the age where I could retire but I don’t want to retire yet. I may be forced into that,” he said.

Kuebel has some concerns with class sizes and how certain types of classes will run in the fall; but he said he has to think about more than just himself when it comes to returning to work.

“I have to think about the person that donated the liver, the family of the person that donated their loved one’s liver,” he said.

“I have an obligation to that family not to abuse the gift they gave me. I have a duty. Just like I wouldn’t consume alcohol now. I wouldn’t consume drugs – not that I ever did. The gift that family gave me, I certainly don’t forget that.”

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