Alberta school boards lobby to have school staff prioritized for COVID-19 vaccine

The province's four largest school districts have asked the province to prioritize vaccinating all school-based staff.

'There's significant disruption that happens in our schools,' says CBE board chair

The letter to the health minister was signed by, from left, CBE board chair Marilyn Dennis, Calgary Catholic School District chair Mary Martin, Edmonton Public Schools chair Trisha Estabrooks and Edmonton Catholic Schools chair Sandra Palazzo. (CBC)

The province's four largest school districts have asked the province to prioritize vaccinating all school-based staff.

In a letter to Alberta's health minister, Tyler Shandro, dated Jan. 22, board chairs from the Calgary Board of Education, Edmonton Public School Board, Calgary Catholic School District and the Edmonton Catholic School District said that as essential workers, all school-based staff should be high priority to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

CBE board chair Marilyn Dennis said vaccinating school staff early will limit the disruption to student learning. 

"When staff members are directed to isolate either due to being infected themselves or being a close contact of a confirmed case, there's significant disruption that happens in our schools," she said.

"Further to that, when we need to have entire grades in a school or even an entire school transition to at-home learning, it's generally because of an operational issue of not being able to sufficiently staff the grade or the school. And that is very disruptive to our students and really their families."

'We need the federal government to step up'

When asked about whether or not he would consider adding teachers to the priority list in Phase 2, Shandro said that until the province has answers from the federal government about vaccine distribution and supply, it's difficult to plan ahead.

"We need the federal government to step up and advocate for Canadians so that we can provide this clarity and start getting vaccinations as … these groups are advocating to be included in as priority groups in Phase 2," the minister said Wednesday. 

Doses of COVID-19 vaccine are pictured at a clinic in Toronto on Dec. 15, 2020. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

"But we need to give that clarity and we need to keep our schools open. We need to provide some certainty to the most vulnerable in the province. And for us to do that, we need the federal government to do their job."

ATA joins call

Jason Schilling, president of the Alberta Teachers' Association, said teachers would like to see this prioritization happen. 

"Teachers will be working with the largest population of Albertans who will not be vaccinated. And we know that teachers are working in overcrowded classrooms with not great ventilation," he said. 

"So it's a priority to make sure that all school staff are vaccinated so that we can keep our schools open and safe and not fall into this cycle of having to isolate it online, go back in person and hopefully try to alleviate some of those pressures."

In an email to CBC News, the province said that with fewer doses arriving, it has no choice but to focus on delivering second doses for those who have already been vaccinated.

"Vaccine has been reserved to ensure that we can provide second doses to all long-term care and designated supportive living residents. All new first dose appointments for eligible health-care workers are being postponed. Many second dose appointments are being rescheduled," it said. 

COVID-19 in schools

The province said that when the supply of vaccines increases, it'll be able to expand its approach.

"No decisions on Phase 2 have been made yet. We will make those decisions in the coming weeks as we learn more about how many doses will be available."

On Wednesday, Alberta's chief medical officer of health said 288 schools (about 12 per cent of the total) have alerts or outbreaks, with 554 cases. In-school transmission has likely occurred in 53 schools.

The CBE said that means about 3,400 students and 330 staff are currently in isolation (in relation to a case reported within their school community). It has had 138 cases of the virus reported in the month of January.


Lucie Edwardson


Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary, currently focused on bringing you stories related to safety on Calgary Transit. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson or reach her by email at