Teachers' federation calls for mandatory vaccinations for teachers, eligible students in Sask. schools

The Saskatchewan Teachers Federation is calling for vaccines to be mandatory for teachers.

'We believe that the government should be stepping up': federation president

A kid wearing a mask gets vaccinated in the arm.
A 13-year-old receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccine clinic on Friday, May 14, 2021. The Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation is calling on the province to mandate vaccines for staff and students who are eligible. (Jacob Hamilton/Ann Arbor News/The Associated Press)

Students will be back in classrooms in Saskatchewan's two biggest cities in only two weeks.

There are no provincial COVID-19 restrictions in place. That has the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation (STF) concerned.

Patrick Maze, president of the STF, said the 2020-21 school year was difficult and that teachers are nervous knowing the fourth wave has arrived in Saskatchewan and variants aren't contained. 

"It's an anxious time," Maze said. "We believe that there should be significant precautions in order to protect students and staff … We're calling on the provincial government to mandate vaccines for all eligible staff and students that are in our buildings."

STF president Patrick Maze says mandatory vaccines would protect staff and students from the coronavirus and its variants. (Alexis Lalament/CBC News)

The provincial government said COVID-19 restrictions will no longer be in place for the 2021-22 school year as public health officials have determined it's safe for schools to resume traditional in-class learning without physical distancing or masking. 

The province said high community vaccine uptake is key to protecting children ineligible for a COVID vaccine. It said children under 12 aren't "independently mobile," so if the vaccine rate is high in parents, families and educators, they are indirectly protected. 

"Schools have not been a major source of direct COVID-19 infection and the transmission rate is lower in schools than it is in the community," the Safe School Plan said. "The current approach is subject to change if there is change in risk or epidemiology."

Maze said it is a matter of balancing everyone's rights with responsibilities. He said the government has a responsibility to make sure that school staff and students are kept safe. 

"We believe that the government should be stepping up and accepting that responsibility," Maze said. 

Many people are already vaccinated, as teachers have an education degree and understand science, he said. However, Maze said if people have chosen to not get a vaccine, there are other options available. 

"Students have a right to an education but it doesn't include the right to be in a building. So maybe that means you have to go to online learning or some other option that is making sure that you're not exposing others to the virus," he said. 

LISTEN | STF president Patrick Maze spoke with Leisha Grebinski on Saskatoon Morning 

As long as 30 per cent of people aren't vaccinated, then there should be other precautions as well, Maze said. There should be masking in common areas and where physical distancing isn't possible, as well as one way foot traffic for staff and students. 

Universities mandate vaccines

Maze said there should be strong leadership at the top and that grade schools should follow the direction of universities in Regina and Saskatoon, where they have mandated vaccines. 

"It seems irresponsible," Maze said, adding the government funds education in the province, so they have the ability to "set the rules."

School divisions can set their own rules, but Maze said one universal ruling is less confusing, especially for substitute teachers who work in multiple school divisions.

Premier Scott Moe said on Tuesday morning that mandatory vaccines for teachers and students is not something the government has discussed. Moe said he encourages people to get vaccinated. 

With files from Saskatoon Morning and Morning Edition