Lethbridge’s Holy Spirit Catholic School Division is demanding immediate action from the province, requesting that the Alberta government implement a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy across all Alberta schools in a recent letter to Premier Jason Kenney.
The letter from Holy Spirit board of trustees chair Bob Spitzig — addressed to Kenney, the ministers of health and education, Dr. Deena Hinshaw and a number of MLAs — is dated Oct. 8, 2021, and asks that the provincial government take responsibility for the health of students, instead of putting the onus on school divisions.
“We are not the health experts. We have been dependent upon the health experts all the way through this pandemic,” Spitzig told Global News.
“We feel it’s only right that the government take lead in this. That way, we have one consistent policy through Alberta.”
The letter details the ways in which school division are “ill-equipped” to effectively implement and enforce mandatory vaccination programs, and continues in part:
“Without formal direction from the Alberta government, a climate of mistrust, polarization, factiousness and contention between school employers and employees, parents and other stakeholders is created; a negative climate which will ultimately affect the education of our students.”
The Holy Spirit division has announced its own mandatory vaccination requirement in the meantime; as of Oct. 25, all staff, visitors, contractors, volunteers and personnel from community agencies who enter school buildings will have to provide proof of full vaccination or participate in a regular, rapid testing program.
The requirement does not apply to students, since currently children under 12 are still not eligible for COVID-19 vaccines; and under the Education Act, every child in Alberta is entitled to have access to an education program.
Spitzig says the decision to require vaccination for adults in schools was not a contentious one for the board of trustees.
“We had a meeting last Friday with all of the trustees, and we were all in favour of putting this mandate in place, and the sooner the better,” Spitzig said.
“I think most of the school boards will be going towards mandating the vaccines, but they would rather see the government mandate it.”
The letter from Spitzig said: “The government has a duty and responsibility to maintain public health, and in order for schools to operate efficiently and effectively, it is the obligation of this government to step up and administer those measures, the same measures that have been established by other provinces.”
The press secretary of Education Minister Adriana LaGrange sent a statement in response to Global News on Thursday, saying that the province is not the employer of school staff in Alberta, and thus has no direct legislative authority to require school authorities to mandate vaccination policies.
The statement continued: “On Oct. 5, the ministers of health and education wrote an open letter to school authorities, strongly encouraging them to adopt proof-of-vaccination policies for their staff. However, as the employer, school authorities ultimately make decisions for their staff.”
Spitzig says the division has not received a response from the province, and he doesn’t anticipate one.
“Our government has been dragging its feet for so long now during this pandemic, I’m not expecting a reply back any time soon.”
Lethbridge-West MLA Shannon Phillips says the situation is another example of the UCP failing to provide leadership.
“It’s really unfortunate that it’s falling to school boards to have to beg the province just to show up to work and respond to COVID properly,” Phillips said.
The Lethbridge School Division told Global News that, at this time, is not considering sending a similar letter to the government.