By Justin Seward
Three local area school boards are collaborating in putting a request in to the government to prioritize school-based staff as essential workers and for them to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.
Prairie Rose Public Schools along with Medicine Hat’s public and catholic school divisions, are sending a letter to the provincial government to immediately offer vaccinations to school staff.
The request comes as Alberta schools are expected to operate at 100 per cent during the COVID-19 pandemic, which could pose increased health risks for staff that do not have the option of working from home.
“While our schools vigilantly follow the public health guidelines, our education K-12 facilities are the most densely populated buildings throughout the school day,” as read in the PRPS’ press release.
“Given this circumstance, our staff deserve the opportunity to access an extra layer of protection vaccines provide.”
With the province’s current rollout, it is estimated that 30 to 35 per cent of school staff, unless immune compromised, will not get vaccinated until end of June.
“We are deeply concerned that school-based staff have not been prioritized for vaccinations,” the release said.
“Providing the COVID-19 vaccination will minimize significant costs associated with staff replacement and help to avoid disruption to student learning. Additionally, with no approved vaccine for those under the age of 16, staff vaccinations would provide additional protection for all students and their families.”
Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes agrees that school staff have to be of higher priority.
“School teachers (and) educational assistants are face to face with many people throughout a day,” said Barnes.
“It’s essential that our in-person schooling continues for all aspects of our children’s life—mental health, development and growth. So, as more vaccines finally arrive from the federal government, I would absolutely like to see frontline workers, like teachers, get more to the front line.”
Barnes realized how unfortunate it is when schools had to shut down for the long period of time.
“I am concerned that we are teaching our children the wrong message, that when there’s a problem you should shut down, and run and hide,” he said.
“I think it’s essential that we do everything we can to continue in-person learning and if this is a step that can accomplish that with fairness, I’m 100 per cent in favour.”
Brooks-Medicine Hat MLA Michaela Glasgo has heard the concerns from schools in her constituency.
“I’ve certainly heard that teachers want to be prioritized in the vaccine roll out,” said Glasgo.
“I don’t disagree that they have a very important job, and I can understand why they feel that way. But I think the most important thing to note is our vaccine system, of course if we had enough vaccines, we would be putting them in everyone’s arm. We would be off to the races and be so excited to get everyone vaccinated as quickly as possible. But the fact of the matter is because of the botched procurement from the federal government, we just don’t have the ability to administer as many vaccines as we would like.”
Glasgo reiterates to teachers that she talks to that due to the lack of supply, that the focus has to be one those that are at most risk of severe outcome and potentially death.