The Edmonton public school division announced Monday it is mandating COVID-19 vaccination for its staff.
The Edmonton Public School Board is requiring all employees be fully vaccinated. Employees have until mid-October to confidentially disclose their vaccination status to the division.
“We have a responsibility to provide learning and working environments that are as safe as possible,” said Supt. Darrel Robertson. “We’ve heard from health officials and our chief medical officer of health that being fully immunized against COVID-19 is one of the most effective ways we can protect ourselves and others.
“We’re confident this is a step in the right direction to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
Those who are not fully vaccinated and have not received an exemption from the division will have to provide a negative COVID-19 test every 72 hours. Between late October and Dec. 17, the division will pay for this testing through a third-party provider. After Dec. 17, employees will have to pay for their own tests.
If they choose not to be tested, they would be essentially choosing to go on unpaid leave, Robertson said.
The vaccination requirement includes all staff, including tenants, volunteers, custodial and maintenance staff.
The division’s vaccination requirement does not apply to students.
The division will consider individual employee requests for exemption from the vaccination requirement based on protected grounds under the Alberta Human Rights Act.
There are 215 public schools in Edmonton, including elementary, junior high and high schools.
So far this school year, Robertson said there have been 675 COVID-19 cases in schools, but those are all reported by parents.
The total number of cases reported last year was about 2,000, Robertson said.
“We’ve had a significant number already,” he said. “We started this school year in the fourth wave.”
So far, one Edmonton public school made the request to the minister of health to move to online learning. That request was approved. Two other classrooms have transitioned to online learning for a 14-day period, Robertson said.
“We saw trends in the classroom that were concerning.”
“Until we have the entire community, the entire province, at a (vaccination) rate that is going to prevent future waves from occurring, we’re going to continue to live like this and continue to have to respond.”
He added that out of about 10,000 full-time staff, there have been slightly more than 50 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in staff so far this year.
“I think it’s less than we experienced last year,” Robertson said. “The data we’re seeing tells us that (vaccines) are effective. I think they’ve helped.”
The majority of the board of trustees supports the decision, EPSB chair Trisha Estabrooks said.
“We’re going to do what we think is right for our staff and our students.
“These are Supt. Robertson’s employees,” she said. “He’s made this decision… It’s the best decision to keep staff and so, so many students in our division safe.”
The province announced last week that its public sector employees would have to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Alberta Health Services also made the decision to require all its employees to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 31.
Estabrooks said she continues to push for stronger leadership from the province, in terms of bringing back measures in schools that worked last year, including the notification of positive COVID-19 cases, quarantining of close contacts and sharing information with schools.
“That’s where we’d like the province to step up,” she said. “That’s where the board of trustees would like to see some leadership from this province.
“There were measures in place last year. Why are they not in place? Why are we acting as if we’re in an endemic?”
The Opposition NDP said the province should have made this a requirement for all Alberta schools.
“All adults inside of Alberta schools should be required to be fully vaccinated, as part of an effort to slow the escalating spread of COVID-19 among school-age children, most of whom cannot be vaccinated,” said NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman.
“It’s another disgraceful failure of leadership from (Education Minister) Adriana LaGrange and the UCP that individual school districts have been forced to develop these policies individually, when the province could and should have made this a requirement across all Alberta schools.”