Manitoba teachers' union, Pembina Trails School Division call for mandatory vaccines for school staff
Exceptions should be made for medical, religious reasons, Manitoba Teachers' Society says
More organizations representing educators in Manitoba have called on the province to mandate vaccines ahead of the September return to class.
The provincial executive of the Manitoba Teachers' Society voted unanimously Tuesday in favour of asking the provincial government to make it mandatory for all public school employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
"I think this is something that will be embraced by our membership," president James Bedford said.
The motion says there should be exceptions for those with a medical or religious reason for not being vaccinated, but anyone not able to receive the vaccine should be required to undergo regular testing for COVID-19.
Many students have not received a vaccine yet, and those born after 2009 are not yet eligible for vaccination.
"We want to keep students safe going into this school year and we want to keep schools open throughout the school year, because the best education occurs when teacher and the student are together in the classroom," he said.
The Pembina Trails School Division also wants vaccines to be mandatory for all school staff.
"We are asking the ministers of education and health to require all teachers to be fully vaccinated," spokesperson James Loewen said in an email.
Earlier this month, the Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations, which represents academic staff at Manitoba's four universities, called for mandatory vaccines for students and staff at provincial universities, a call that was echoed by the Brandon University Faculty Association earlier this week.
The Manitoba Teachers' Society spoke out earlier this month against the government's decision to not make masks mandatory in schools.
In May, a majority of teachers responding to a CBC questionnaire said vaccines should be mandatory for school staff.
The positions of school divisions in Manitoba varies.
A Winnipeg School Division spokesperson said in an email that the division is part of the Manitoba Association of School Superintendents and the Manitoba Association of School Boards, both of which "have raised concerns on behalf of their members with Public Health and Manitoba Education requesting clarification and direction" on mandating staff vaccinations.
Seven Oaks School Division superintendent Brian O'Leary said the division hasn't taken a position on the issue of mandatory vaccines for school staff.
Speaking on CBC Radio's Up To Speed on Wednesday, O'Leary said his board is leaving the issue up to the province. He said teachers "are vaccinated to a really high level already," but added he personally wouldn't have a problem with anything that might encourage a few more people to get the jabs.
"I think everything we can do to raise the vaccination levels in the population generally is going to be better for all of our safety," O'Leary said.
'Do something before school starts': parent
Winnipegger Kristy Schroeder's daughter Aurellia will be starting nursery school in September.
"I sure hope they do something before school starts because as a parent, I'm very nervous about sending my child back … with very little in place in terms of of regulations," Schroeder said as her family cooled off at a River Heights wading pool.
She favours mandatory vaccinations. Teachers or staff who are uncomfortable with being required to get inoculated against COVID-19 can make a choice, she said.
"Your choice not to be vaccinated can put other people's health at risk. And so then I think there might be consequences.… There might be places that you can't go, or things that you can't do."
Progressive Conservative MLA Heather Stefanson — who was health minister until Wednesday afternoon, when she said she was stepping down from the role to run for leadership of the provincial party — told reporters the government is looking at options for the start of the school year.
With files from Caroline Barghout