Calgary Board of Education to require vaccine for staff, volunteers

The Calgary Board of Education will now require mandatory vaccination against COVID-19 for employees, volunteers and partners.

Vaccines are not required for eligible students (those 12 and up) but the CBE says it is “encouraged.”

In a letter to staff on Tuesday, the chief superintendent of schools, Christopher Usih, says workers must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec. 17.

This includes staff and substitute teachers working at CBE facilities, employees who work remotely, contracted service providers, tenants in CBE buildings and all volunteers.

“We know from the data we have just under 70,000 students in the CBE who are not eligible to be vaccinated, at this time, under age 12. So this decision is predicated on the fact that we’re doing everything possible to minimize transmission in our schools because of COVID-19,” he told CBC News.

The CBE had previously sent a letter to the Minister of Education on Sept. 17 asking that the province mandate vaccinations for all employees who work in the education sector, as well as bringing back contact tracing and mandatory isolation at schools.

For Calgary Catholic schools, the district said on Monday that mandatory vaccinations will be discussed at its board meeting later this week. 

The Alberta Teachers’ Association had also said in late September that it would support the government or individual school boards that implement a vaccine mandate for its teachers.

New school measures

The province announced Tuesday it was adding new measures to combat COVID-19 in schools, such as a rapid testing program, contact tracing and public reporting of new cases.

Starting Wednesday, any schools with at least two cases of COVID-19 will be reported online by Alberta Health.

As well, outbreaks in schools will now be declared when there are 10 or more cases within 14 days.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said at Tuesday’s press conference that some students will still likely spend time learning online again this year. 

“If there are three or more cases infectious within a classroom in five days, then that class will need to be moved into online learning for a 10-day time period.”

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange added that she “encourages” school authorities to require proof of vaccination or a negative test, but it’s not a provincial requirement.

Negative COVID tests for staff

Usih says dates for declaring vaccination status are still to be announced.

During this time, employees who are not fully vaccinated or do not declare their vaccination status will need to show a negative COVID-19 test on a regular basis until it’s required in December.

More details on rapid testing for staff and specifics on exemptions under human rights legislation will be available soon, the letter says.

“[A] majority of families … have said to us, they like their children to be in school,” said Usih. “So every decision we make is contingent upon trying to minimize the risk of COVID transmission in our schools so that we are able to continue learning in-person.” 

Craig Jenne, an infectious disease expert at the University of Calgary, applauds the CBE for mandating vaccines for staff, but questions why it wasn’t brought in earlier.

“If you’re willing to take that step, we would have liked to have seen that decided in September,” he said.

He says given that there isn’t much of a wait for vaccines right now, and only four weeks required between first and second doses, it’s unclear why school staff have until mid-December to comply with the vaccine mandate.

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