Winnipeg school requiring all eligible students to be vaccinated in order to attend

An independent Winnipeg school is requiring not only its staff to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 but its eligible students as well. 

Gray Academy says all students turning 12 this year must provide proof of vaccination

The Gray Academy of Jewish Education, an independent school in Winnipeg, is requiring all returning, eligible students to be fully vaccinated. (Google Street View)

A Winnipeg school is requiring not only its staff to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 but its eligible students as well. 

Gray Academy of Jewish Education, an independent Jewish junior kindergarten to Grade 12 school, says all students turning 12 by Dec. 31 must provide proof of vaccination to attend this upcoming school year. 

Parents who haven't yet had their children fully vaccinated will be given time to obtain a first and second dose, according to a memo that went out to Gray Academy students and staff on Tuesday. 

The policy goes one step further than the vaccination mandate for all teachers and child-care workers the province announced earlier in the day. 

That mandate requires teachers and other staff working in schools to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 31, which means they must get their first dose no later than Sept. 7, the first day of school, and their second dose by Oct. 17.

Gray Academy's mandate was the result of a unanimous decision by its board following a lengthy discussion this weekend, said Bryan Borzykowski, president of the Winnipeg Board of Jewish Education, which oversees the school.

"When it came down to it, it does go back to the health of the kids, the health of the staff, the teachers and our community," he said. 

Gray Academy is also requiring all of its staff, volunteers, third-party service providers and visitors to be vaccinated, too. 

The school has received some questions from parents about the mandate but overall the response has been positive, said Lori Binder, the school's CEO. 

"I will say that the feedback between the rollout of the staff policy, and so far with this one, has been relief and gratitude.

Binder said officials will work with those who are hesitant to get vaccinated and even have a parent who is a doctor and is willing to give vaccines at his clinic. 

But if there are families who refuse to get their children vaccinated, "it could be that we're unable to have that student in the school, as the main focus is the health and safety and well-being of the entire school community," Binder said. 

"I hope that won't be the case, but I'm also a realist and understand that there may be that circumstance," she said. 

"But that's certainly not what we hope."

Vaccine mandates reasonable: ethicist 

Requiring students to get vaccinated against diseases is nothing new, as schools have an obligation to keep children safe while they're in their care, said Neil McArthur, director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba.

"That's one of their most basic duties. We place our children in their hands and we want to know that our children are going to be safe while they're at school," he said. 

Winnipeg ethics professor Neil McArthur says vaccine mandates are a necessary tool to keep children safe during the pandemic. (Warren Kay/CBC)

"So I think the vaccine mandates are what are the essential tools in the middle of a pandemic that schools have to make sure they're filling, fulfilling that basic ethical duty to keep our kids safe."

The school will make exemptions for medical or religious reasons, but they must provide verification from a physician or other documentation to support their claim, the school's policy says. 

Ahead of the province's announcement Tuesday, several school divisions had already said they will make face masks mandatory for all students, staff and visitors when classes resume this fall, and were weighing similar rules for vaccines. 

McArthur says that as long as schools leave some room for those exemptions, such mandates aren't discriminatory. He points out that there are many personal choices, such as not having a driver's licence, that limit our ability to do things in society to keep the community safe. 

"There's all kinds of personal choices that people make that lead to restrictions as the society for the public good," he said. 

"And I think with COVID, this is a clear case where we can't let people exempt themselves from something that's protecting all of us."