A recent memo sent out by senior staff at SRSS directing staff not to engage in conversations about COVID-19 vaccines with their students has board members of the Hanover School Division siding with the content of the note.
Instructed to not engage in ‘controversial topics’ with their students, the memo asked staff to direct all questions regarding vaccine appointments and consent to Health Links after it was announced minors were eligible to receive a jab. Word of the internal document generated criticism on social media by those both in the Hanover region and beyond, with some saying it was further contributing to vaccine hesitancy among residents there.
Ron Falk, board chair for HSD, said his interpretation of the memo was to ensure parents and families were involved in a child’s decision to be vaccinated. He noted schools and teachers are having difficulties delivering the curriculum mandated of them as it is, and lengthy discussions and questions about vaccines should be left to health care professionals.
"I don't know if school needs to get consumed with giving that kind of information and talking about that kind of information," he said. "Those are discussions that can be had around the family kitchen table and in the various households and they can get their information there as well. It's not something that we need to take time away from learning to do that."
When asked about students who wish to get a vaccine but don’t feel comfortable speaking with their parents about it, Falk insisted it should be a decision made with parents present.
"The province is suggesting that 12-year-olds can stroll into any health center and get a vaccine. And that's probably something where parents should be involved with their minors and have those discussions." Falk said the decision to send out the memo at SRSS was made internally and not at the direction of the division.
While the age of mature minor consent is 16 in the province, those underage without a signed consent form can still be inoculated via an informed consent process if they come to an immunization site alone. Saskatchewan has implemented an immunization program for students 12-17 in Regina schools.
Shelley Amos, interim superintendent for the division, refused an interview with The Carillon but offered a written statement on the matter.
"We understand that for some parents/guardians in our region, there may be hesitancy towards COVID-19 vaccination. As always, we respect the diversity of opinion and personal/family choices. Hanover School Division and its schools are fully supportive of all public health measures that prevent and reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in our communities. We will continue to have respectful age-appropriate conversations in our schools regarding COVID-19 and communicate all public health recommendations to parents/guardians."
Vaccine eligibility in the province is now open to anyone 12-years-old and over. The RM of Hanover and City of Steinbach remain one of the lowest populations to be inoculated in the province, with vaccine uptake percentages sitting at 29 percent and 40 percent respectively. Provincewide, 65.7 percent of those 18+ have been vaccinated.
While the province has teased a vaccine inventive plan for the past few weeks and said it would be engaging in conversations with leaders in the southeast to combat vaccine hesitancy among residents, no updates have been provided on either matter.