Vaccinations will be required for teachers, school staff and volunteers at Edmonton Public Schools
'We need to ensure we're providing a safe learning and working environment'
All school staff, contractors and volunteers at Edmonton's 215 public schools will have to be fully vaccinated or provide proof of negative COVID-19 tests.
The mandatory vaccination initiative, announced Monday by Edmonton Public Schools superintendent Darrel Robertson, will be phased in between mid-October and Dec. 17, when the school system begins its winter break.
"We're in the middle of this fourth wave and a lot of anxiety in our community about COVID and the spread of COVID and how schools may or may not be contributing to that spread," Robertson told reporters.
"We need to ensure we're providing a safe learning and working environment."
The initiative will affect all school staff, including teachers, administrators and custodial employees, as well as all tenants, volunteers, contractors and other on-site partners that access the division's buildings.
"Essentially all of the adults that are coming into our schools to spend time and work with kids or around kids, we've captured in this mandatory vaccination regulation," Robertson said.
The division's new policy bears similarities to others that have been introduced in Alberta, including those affecting provincial public servants and Alberta Health Services employees.
EPSB employees have until mid-October to disclose their vaccination status or request an exemption under the Alberta Human Rights Act.
After mid-October, staff who are not fully vaccinated or exempted will have to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test every 72 hours. The tests will be co-ordinated and paid for by the division until Dec. 17, according to a news release.
After that, employees who are still unvaccinated will have to pay for these tests themselves.
"If they choose not to be tested, they are effectively choosing to go on unpaid leave," Robertson said.
Last week, Premier Jason Kenney said school districts would have to decide for themselves whether to impose a vaccine mandate on their employees.
The Alberta Teachers Association said it supports "reasonable" vaccine policies that are temporary and reviewable, make reasonable accommodations and not use discipline to deal with people who refuse to be vaccinated or tested.
Three CUPE locals represent support staff, custodians and maintenance and trade workers at Edmonton Public.
In a joint statement, the three local presidents said they support vaccinations but will review the policy when it is released.
"We also recognize our obligation to represent members, and any discipline or accommodation issues that may arise will be dealt with on a case by case basis, " the statement reads.
"When EPSB releases a formal vaccination policy, CUPE Locals 3550, 474 and 784 will be taking a close look at the implications and obligations for our members."
Trisha Estabrooks, chair of the board of trustees for Edmonton Public Schools, is frustrated the province refuses to share information about positive COVID-19 cases with school districts.
She said Edmonton Public and other metro school divisions are "imploring" the province to implement stronger public health measures.
"There were measures in place last year. Why are we not having them in place?" she said at a news conference Monday. "Why are we acting as if we're in this endemic stage of this pandemic?"
Edmonton Public Schools will continue to host vaccination clinics for students, and Robertson said he is hopeful that vaccinations will soon become available for students under age 12.
The division has 215 schools. At the start of the 2020-21 school year, it had more than 9,500 full-time equivalent employees.