Saskatoon

Sask. education minister says public health order would trump his directive on extracurricular activities

Education Minister Dustin Duncan says an order from a provincial medical health officer would take precedence over his letter stating that unvaccinated children shouldn't be excluded from after-school activities.

Minister Dustin Duncan wrote letter to divisions stating unvaccinated children should not be excluded

Saskatchewan Education Minister Dustin Duncan says a public health order would trump advice that unvaccinated students be allowed to attend after-school events. (CBC News)

Saskatchewan Education Minister Dustin Duncan says an order from a provincial medical health officer would take precedence over his letter stating that unvaccinated children shouldn't be excluded from after-school activities.

On Nov. 17, Duncan wrote a letter to all school boards in the province stating that all children should be allowed to attend extracurricular functions, regardless of their vaccine status.

However, in an interview with CBC Radio host Stefani Langenegger on The Morning Edition, Duncan said a public health order would trump any directive his office put out.

"If a public health officer orders some sort of mandate, then I would expect the school division would comply with an order," Duncan told The Morning Edition.

"My view is that if it's a recommendation, that we would look to preserve the ability for students, regardless of their vaccination status, to take part in in-class learning and other activities that have been provided by the school."

Dustin Duncan says vaccines will be key to ending the pandemic, but not at the expense of prohibiting students from extra-curricular activities such as sports or choir if they are unvaccinated. 11:48

Last month, 21 medical health officers from across the province sent a letter to Health Minister Paul Merriman asking that any facility hosting youth sports or extracurricular activities be required to get proof of vaccination from participants, staff, coaches, volunteers and spectators.

The Saskatchewan Teachers Federation also advocated for a similar program.

The province says any child who is a close contact of someone with COVID-19 cannot attend extracurricular activities.

Duncan said his ministry is recommending that school boards ignore this advice, unless it is in the form of a public health order.

"What we're trying to do is to ensure that students have as much of an ability to take part as possible," said Duncan.

"We're not going to get rid of all of the risk. This is about mitigating as much of the risk as possible, while also ensuring that students have the opportunity to take part in as much of the school year as possible."

In a previous interview with CBC, Duncan said that school decisions should be made by local school boards in conjunction with local medical health officers, taking into account issues like active case counts.

He admitted that guidance had changed, but said it wasn't fair to exclude children in activities based on decisions their parents had made for them.

"We reject that kids should not lose out on the ability to take part in in-class learning or extracurricular activities because of a vaccination decision," he said. 

"Kids can still partake, regardless of the decision their parents have made." 

Last month, chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab supported the call to allow unvaccinated children to participate in after-school activities. 

Duncan said that the childhood vaccination program is going well, with strong uptake in the provincial booking system as well as through pharmacies.

He asked all parents in the province to get their children vaccinated.

"If you want to keep your child safe, that's the best way to do it," he said.

"If your child really wants to stay on the practice field or on the playing court or in the choir, the best way for them to avoid having to miss time and to isolate is to be vaccinated."

Saskatoon's public and Catholic school boards said that they do not currently have a policy on student vaccinations and are waiting for clarification from the Ministry of Education.

In Regina public schools, students are not required to be vaccinated to take part in extracurricular events, although they cannot participate if they have been deemed a close contact of someone with COVID-19. All adult spectators must be vaccinated.

Regina Catholic schools do not have a policy on student vaccination at outside events, although it has set up its own vaccine passport system for those attending events as spectators.

With files from The Morning Edition, Stefani Langenegger

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