Edmonton Public Schools is requiring all employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Supt. Darrel Robertson said Monday the division is implementing the vaccine mandate in order to provide a safe learning and working environment, especially because children under 12 cannot yet be immunized.
“Our custodial staff, maintenance, support, teachers, exempt staff, our volunteers that come into the school, essentially all adults that are coming in school to spend time and work with kids, or around kids, will be captured in this mandatory vaccination regulation,” Robertson said.
All employees will have to declare their vaccination status by mid-October. Those who are not fully vaccinated and have not received an exemption from the division will be required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test every 72 hours.
From late October to Dec. 17, the division will co-ordinate and pay for testing through a third-party provider. Following Dec. 17, any employee who remains unvaccinated will have to cover the cost of the test at their own expense.
The mandate will be in place for all 215 schools, along with any other buildings that the division operates.
Robertson said staff who refuse to get tested before work may be put on unpaid leave, but the possibility of being fired is also there for breaking an employment regulation and contract.
“We’re trying to work in a reasonable fashion with our staff,” he said. “What I’d also say is that there are accommodations that need to be made in the workplace based on protected grounds, like medical reasons. So we’re gonna have to sort through those details as we implement this regulation.”
The division will consider individual requests for an exemption from vaccination on grounds under the Alberta Human Rights Act and an application process is currently being developed.
Jason Schilling, president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, said he is looking forward to seeing Edmonton Public Schools’ full plan for their vaccine mandate.
“It’s not something that is not unexpected on my part,” Schilling said. “The association felt that we would probably see this coming down because we’ve seen it in other employment aspects as well.
“We want to make sure that we know that the protection of our members and other school staff are the utmost importance and so having policies in place to make sure that we’re doing this as another measure with other things that we can do in school to keep people safe, is an important step.”
Robertson said there has been about 675 self-reported cases of COVID-19 in schools this year. There have also been about 50 cases among staff.
He said he believes a vaccine mandate will have an impact of COVID-19 cases and keeping each other safe, but said until the community and province is at a rate to prevent future waves, “we’re going to continue to live with this and we’re going to continue to have to respond.”
“Even if we have a fifth wave, if we take this step now, if we’re facing other waves of COVID this year, we can go into that wave with confidence that our staff are all vaccinated and we’re doing everything that we can within our powers to keep our kids safe,” he said.
In a statement to Postmedia Monday, the presidents of unions representing maintenance, trades and custodians with EPSB said they will be taking a close look at the policy when it is released.
“CUPE Locals 3550, 474 and 784 support vaccinations for everyone able to be vaccinated to ensure a safe and healthy workplace. We also recognize our obligation to represent members, and any discipline or accommodation issues that may arise will be dealt with on a case by case basis,” the statement said.
The required immunization comes after
Premier Jason Kenney said last week the health and education ministers would be writing to school boards to encourage them to implement a vaccine mandate.
Both Robertson and Edmonton Public Schools Board Chair Trisha Estabrooks said they have not personally seen a letter but that doesn’t mean one has not been sent yet.
Postmedia has reached out to both ministries to confirm the status of the letter.
Meanwhile, Opposition NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman said all adults in Alberta schools should be vaccinated against COVID-19 to slow the spread of the virus. She noted the province should have made it a requirement for all divisions instead of leaving the decision up to individual school boards.