By Dale Woodard on October 16, 2021.
With the 2021 municipal election right around the corner, public school trustee candidates were afforded the chance to weigh in on the issues one more time in an online forum Wednesday night.
Lethbridge Public Local 41 hosted a virtual forum for the 16 candidates running for public school trustee as Andrea Andreachuk, Brooke Culley, Tyler Demers, David Gurr, Jeff Hill, Henry Jacobs, Kristina Larkin, Daniel Leis, Christine Light, David Low, Vic Mensch, Allison Purcell, Joanne Siljak, Locke Spencer, Genny Steed and Craig Whitehead tackled a few questions.
In addition to general introductions and a brief statement on why they were running, topics kicked around in the two-hour session included the curriculum.
But a topical question was saved for last when trustees were asked if they supported mandatory vaccination of school staff.
The answers varied from those fully supporting a vaccine mandate, while others spoke in favour of the teacher’s right to choose, but not at the cost of their job.
Andreachuk weighed in in favour of mandatory vaccination.
“I do believe in staff who are eligible to be vaccinated to protect our young students who are not yet eligible for the vaccine. We need to protect the children we teach in every way we can. The younger children who are not eligible for vaccines yet are at a great risk for contracting the virus. We need to protect them and it’s very important to me that students and staff are safe as they teach and learn during the COVID pandemic. I’m so proud of the staff and the students for the wonderful job they’re doing with their learning through these times.”
Demers, however, felt the school division shouldn’t be making health-related decisions.
“This is not part of our mandate and it’s far from our area of expertise,” he said. “I think AHS and the province should be providing positions for school divisions to follow based on their expert opinions on statistics. Part of what I believe makes Canada so great is we have freedom and choice. If some staff are reluctant to vaccinate for whatever reason, I would like to see discussions looking for a solution, amicable to all involved. I have no interest in taking away someone’s livelihood.”
However, students and staff safety have to be the number one priority, said Demers.
“As a trustee, there is a duty of care whereby it’s our legal responsibility to take all reasonable measures necessary to prevent harm to individuals, especially those most vulnerable. The AT has some out and said they support mandatory vaccinations for all teachers in Alberta. Given there are options available for accommodation based on the Alberta Human Rights Act or providing a negative test result within 72 hours of a scheduled work day, I would support mandatory vaccinations for school staff.”
Jacobs spoke of working with Alberta Health Services for the past two-and-a-half years and most recently with the Centres For Disease Control and Prevention, communicating with families as a contact tracer.
“I will tell you the one thing that has been an underlying theme is guilt,” he said. “Those who may not have gotten vaccinated and as a result got someone sick. We never want to put our teachers and our staff or our support staff in a position where they are forced to put someone else at risk. So I’m 100 per cent in support of vaccination, not only to our teachers within schools, but to all of our board staff extending into those other support services available at the schools because I’ve seen first-hand the impact of COVID-19, making those phone calls each and every day and I never want to be in a position where a decision we didn’t make as a board caused that harm to come to another person.”
As a manager at a medical clinic where her husband works as a physician, Steed said the vaccination question leads to more questions for her.
“With this, I would need more information,” she said. “I would need to know if we are talking specifically about just the staff because typically this conversation is mandating vaccines for staff and students as well. I would need to know how many educators we would risk losing. I know in our zone when we mandated vaccinations for AHS staff, we lost almost 250 nurses that week. So we put ourselves in a crisis situation.”
Light cited Policy 400.1 of the Lethbridge School Division on welcoming, caring, respectful and safe work Environments
“We care by protecting those who are vulnerable,” she said. “We respect the way we dialogue about it and safety is paramount in the decisions that we are making and, no, we are not a health authority. But we have been tasked with this responsibility. I support vaccination and I believe it’s an essential piece to climb out of this pandemic pit that we have found ourselves in. I support mandatory vaccination, but not at the expense of somebody’s livelihood. That is essential. There must be accomodation for those who choose to not vaccinate, but not at the expense of others. That is that caring piece again. Inclusion is a value we hold and the way forward must reflect this.”
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