Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation claims Catholic school division memo flouts health guidelines

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WATCH: STF president Patrick Maze says a Greater Saskatoon Catholic School memo telling staff to get a letter from a family doctor for COVID-19-related absences from work contradicts a policy from the Saskatchewan Health Authority – Oct 10, 2020

The president of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation claims a memo from the Greater Saskatoon Catholic School division to its staff contradicts public health guidelines and puts teachers at risk.

“It seems to go against the best advice from the (Saskatchewan) Medical Association and the Saskatchewan Health Authority, both of which seem to indicate that doctors’ notes aren’t required,” said Patrick Maze, speaking via Zoom to Global News.

The Oct. 7 memo obtained by Global News tells school division staff they need a signed message from a medical professional confirming they were required to isolate in order to have their absences correctly coded by the human resources department.

Read more: 5th person at Holy Cross High School in Saskatoon tests positive for the coronavirus

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The memo also says that the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) asks that staff do not request the information from Healthline 811, and that they should instead contact their family doctor.

But that would seem to contradict SHA policy.

A May 22 letter from the Health Authority, the Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA) and the Saskatchewan College of Family Physicians, asks employers to “excuse your employees from work … in alignment with orders from the Saskatchewan Chief Medical Health Officer regarding self-isolation.”

The May 22 letter asks employers to “treat this letter as a sick note based on provincial guidance. Individualized sick notes will not be provided to confirm if your employee has been tested for COVID-19.”

A statement from school division spokesperson Derrick Kunz called the Oct. 7 memo a “clarification” so that “employees do not have to use up existing sick leave if they are required to self-isolate.”

Kunz said that the schools would also accept verification from medical professionals other than family doctors and that this was not a new policy but a long-standing procedure.

Maze said he wasn’t aware of the policy until contacted by Global News.

He added that doctors’ notes were required in the past if staff members had to miss several days of work, but that things have changed.

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“During a pandemic, sick notes don’t make a lot of sense,” he said, “because it causes somebody to leave their home where they may be already isolating and have to go out and … spread the virus.”

He said that as far as he knew, all other school divisions were using the method prescribed by the SHA, SMA and College of Family Physicians.

Read more: Saskatchewan physicians urge residents to wear masks

Maze also provided Global News with the agreement between the teachers’ group and the provincial government, which both parties agreed to before the new school year began.

The document states that if the “Healthline 811 consultant directs the employee to remain at home, then the employee is eligible for quarantine leave as outlined in section 3.”

Section 3 states that “family doctors and other medical personnel are not medical health officers and do not have the authority and cannot order mandatory self-isolation.”

The document outlines how teaching staff can submit documentation and states that a written record of phone calls, including the time, date and name of the public health official to whom the teacher spoke qualifies.

Kunz’s statement also said the school division will continue to adapt its internal processes as needed and to strive to make things safer and easier for staff.

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The SHA and the Saskatchewan Medical Association, a professional group for doctors in the province, did not respond to requests for comment.

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