Ninety-four per cent of Edmonton Public Schools staff have declared full COVID-19 vaccination

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Ninety-four per cent of Edmonton Public Schools staff have declared that they’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

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At Tuesday’s board meeting, chief human resources officer Angela Anderson said that out of 12,665 staff members, 11,900 have attested to receiving both doses of vaccine.

As for the 765 staff who have yet to submit their declarations, board chairwoman Trisha Estabrooks said it’s not clear whether they are unvaccinated.

“We need to unpack that a little further,” she told reporters in a media briefing after the board meeting. “Is it vaccine hesitancy? Have they just not declared yet? Are they hourly workers who haven’t checked their email yet? We’re a large school division. There’s still a lot of work to do. I have confidence we can navigate that going forward.”

Estabrooks said it was too early to say how staff who remain holdouts on declaring or getting vaccinated could impact learning, pointing to the “consequences” outlined in the vaccine mandate announced in October .

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Staff had to declare their vaccination status by mid-October, or provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test every 72 hours going forward. The division is footing the bill for the cost of testing until Dec. 17, after which unvaccinated staff will have to pay for it themselves.

Staff who refuse to be tested before work might be put on unpaid leave or possibly fired. Estabrooks did not say whether the board has taken any of these steps.

Six members of the public who were given the opportunity to speak to the board by video link expressed opposition to the Edmonton public’s vaccination mandate for staff in Tuesday’s meeting.

Among those speakers was Carla Smiley, a former trustee with Edmonton Catholic Schools who resigned her post on Oct. 27 .

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“This invasion of personal medical privacy and the pressure to take the vaccine is just too much,” said Smiley, adding schools risk losing many skilled educators because of the mandate.

Estabrooks later commented on Smiley’s remarks, saying that the district’s staff “do see value” in the mandate.

“We are not losing staff as a result of an important vaccine policy put forward by our superintendent,” she said.

The board has not mandated vaccines for children.

Last week, Health Canada said its review of the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 5-11 would be completed in “weeks, not months.”

Nancy Petersen, managing director of strategic district support, said those children would receive their inoculations at regular health clinics, not at school clinics as children 12 and older did until the fall.

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Also on Tuesday , Kathy Muhlethaler, assistant superintendent of operations and learning services, told the board   that since AHS took over the contact tracing process in schools on Oct. 18, it has lessened workloads for school staff and absenteeism rates aren’t as high as before.

AHS will continue to notify parents when a positive case of COVID-19 is discovered in their children’s schools, Muhlethaler said.

Meanwhile, parents whose students prefer online to in-person classes will be given the choice to extend the remote learning into the second half of the year through the Argyll Centre .

More information will be provided to parents later in November, with registration starting in December.

bmcbride@postmedia.com

twitter.com/blairmcbride

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