Pembina Trails trustees lobby province for vaccine mandate

A south Winnipeg school board is the first in Manitoba to put pressure on provincial officials to introduce a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for education workers.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/08/2021 (414 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A south Winnipeg school board is the first in Manitoba to put pressure on provincial officials to introduce a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for education workers.

A spokeswoman for trustees in the Pembina Trails School Division wrote to the ministers for education and health to outline the board’s support for requiring public school employees to get fully immunized to keep their jobs.

Masks required in Seven Oaks

Seven Oaks School Division will require masks be worn indoors when classes resume after Labour Day.

In a letter sent to families Tuesday, following a meeting between school division leaders, public health officials and education department staff, the northwest Winnipeg division informed families about its policy.

Seven Oaks School Division will require masks be worn indoors when classes resume after Labour Day.

In a letter sent to families Tuesday, following a meeting between school division leaders, public health officials and education department staff, the northwest Winnipeg division informed families about its policy.

“Masks will be required for all staff, students and visitors indoors in our schools and while on school buses,” wrote superintendent Brian O’Leary, in the letter dated Aug. 17. “We will continue to make disposable masks available.”

The province has simply recommended face coverings be worn when school resumes. Last year, all students in Grade 4 and up were required to wear face coverings when physical distancing was not adequate at school.

“I write on behalf of the board of trustees to ask that the Safe Return to School Plan for Sept 2021 be amended to stipulate that all staff, who are medically able, be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus as a condition of working in Manitoba public schools,” wrote Kathleen McMillan, chairwoman of the board, in a letter dated Aug. 13.

Calling vaccination the single most important preventative measure to slow the spread of COVID-19, she said the board believes a mandate is critical to keep students, staff and families safe and healthy.

McMillan, who is a trustee in Ward 3, noted a growing number of public and private institutions are implementing such mandates to protect personal safety and instill confidence in the public.

 

file art of empty classroom or somesuch for background; file art of people mentioned

Pembina Trails letter

 

Manitoba’s back-to-school plan promises a “near normal” first day of school on Sept. 7, owing to a significant rollback of mandatory public health measures. Masks are now being recommended and physical distancing encouraged, while cohorting will only be obligatory for classes of students in Grade 6 or younger.

Meantime, Education Minister Cliff Cullen has said the province will not stand in the way if divisions want to enact measures that go above and beyond public health guidelines.

“The minister’s offer to stay out of the way of school boards doesn’t recognize the complexities of the situation,” said Alan Campbell, president of the Manitoba School Boards Association.

“Public health continues to be a provincial responsibility and when it comes to pandemic response planning and preparedness in public schools, a collaborative relationship between boards, the department of education and public health itself must continue to lead that conversation.”

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / FREE PRESS FILES Education Minister Cliff Cullen has said the province will not stand in the way if divisions want to enact measures that go above and beyond public health guidelines.

Trustees across Manitoba are hearing from local families with varying opinions on compulsory masks and vaccines, but Campbell said Tuesday he was only aware of a single board — Pembina Trails — explicitly interested in a vaccine mandate.

The Pembina Trails letter was sent amid Safe September MB’s ongoing push to have both masks and vaccines mandated in schools before the first day of class. (Notably, one of the co-founders of the grassroots movement is a parent in the division.)

On Tuesday, the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, Manitoba NDP and Manitoba Liberals explicitly called on the province to make vaccines mandatory for people who work in public schools.

“We have a real duty here to the students who are in our classrooms to make our schools a safe place and vaccination is a way to accomplish that,” said James Bedford, who represents more than 16,000 public school educators in the province.

“We have a real duty here to the students who are in our classrooms to make our schools a safe place and vaccination is a way to accomplish that.” – James Bedford

Bedford said the union’s latest campaign addresses the facts that students — many of whom cannot yet get immunized because they are younger than 12 — do not have a choice when it comes to attending public school and “the void” left by the province because it is not requiring masks in schools.

Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead for the province’s COVID-19 vaccine task force, recently said public health has not yet decided whether to require vaccination for staff in settings such as health care or education. Officials continue to look at a range of options, Reimer said.

In a statement Tuesday, the education minister said the province has taken direction from public health throughout the pandemic. Cullen indicated both his department and public health are monitoring the situation and will make adjustments accordingly.

Also Tuesday, Ontario announced it would implement a vaccination status disclosure policy for school staff in public and private schools and those who are not fully immunized will be required to undergo frequent rapid antigen testing.

— with file from Danielle Da Silva

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

RUTH BONNEVILLE / FREE PRESS FILES "The minister’s offer to stay out of the way of school boards doesn't recognize the complexities of the situation," said Alan Campbell, president of the Manitoba School Boards Association.
Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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Updated on Tuesday, August 17, 2021 7:32 PM CDT: fixes typo

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