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Offloading of mandatory vaccine decision 'extremely unfair'

"We're shooting in the dark... it's very frustrating," says the St. Paul Education board chair, speaking to a provincial recommendation asking school authorities to create a mandatory vaccine policy for adults in schools.

ST. PAUL - At the last board meeting ahead of the school board election set to take place on Oct. 18, a number of St. Paul Education trustees voiced frustration and displeasure with how the provincial government has downloaded a decision regarding the creation of a mandatory vaccine policy for adults in Alberta schools.

Board chair Heather Starosielski was first to speak to the issue during the Oct. 13 board meeting. She stated the topic of possibly creating a mandatory vaccine policy within schools has garnered a lot of attention from the public over the past three days, and she has personally received a number of letters from parents and staff.

She requested that correspondence be entered into the public record, to which the board of trustees agreed. 

Starosielski first read portions of a letter received from the provincial government, recommending school authorities create a policy around mandatory vaccines. She noted that one important piece was that the recommendation was only for adults, and not students. 

"Just to be really clear on that," said Starosielski, adding, some of the letters she had received incorrectly stated concerns around mandatory vaccines would be for students.

Starosielski noted that having the province download a health decision to boards that are elected and sworn in to deal with education issues is "troublesome." 

Starosielski said she had a number of concerns about a potential policy, such as if it would affect bus drivers and other contract workers, for example. She wondered if a policy would result in the school division being short resources in some areas. 

Superintendent Glen Brodziak stated that pieces such as bus drivers, would be included in the decision making if the board moved ahead with a policy.

Starosielski said she did read every single letter she received, and has been working to respond to each one. She also pointed out that she has heard from both sides - with some people voicing concerns about a mandatory vaccine policy, and others in support of a policy. But still, the board chair said she wasn't sure if she had enough information to move forward.

She also noted that she was conflicted in whose right it was to move forward with a decision on the matter. According to the school division's policies, the superintendent is in charge of occupational health and safety decisions that relate to staff. 

In the end, Starosielski said it was "extremely unfair" for the province to place the decision in the hands of school authorities, and she felt most of the letters she had received should actually be redirected to the local MLA.

She acknowledged that many of the letters were "passionate" but added some were also "borderline threatening." 

With the municipal and school board elections just days away, Starosielski also wondered if this decision was one that should be made by the next board.

Trustee Justin Anderson echoed many of Starosielski's thoughts, stating he did not support the decision of mandatory vaccines being put on the shoulders of superintendents and trustees. 

"I'm not sure we're in a position to make a decision today," said Anderson.

Trustee Lorne Young agreed, saying he also didn't feel the board had enough information to move forward with a decision, yet. 

Speaking to all trustees and potential future board members, Starosielski offered a reminder that once elected, trustees are responsible "for all students" and what is done in one ward impacts every ward. 

Speaking to the fact that the province just started reporting active COVID-19 cases in schools once again, Starosielski stated the division wasn't even aware of how many cases of the respiratory virus were connected to its local schools.

"We're shooting in the dark... it's very frustrating."

In the end, the approximately 50 pieces of correspondence received by trustees and the superintendent only represent a small fraction of the total number of students, staff and families that make up St. Paul Education. 

"I would like to hear from more people," said Starosielski. Administration was also directed to get more information from its legal counsel.

No motion was put forward on the matter.

Janice Huser

About the Author: Janice Huser

Janice Huser has been with the St. Paul Journal since 2006. She is a graduate of the SAIT print media journalism program, is originally from St. Paul and has a passion for photography.
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