A former city-wide school council chair for Red Deer Public Schools is struggling to understand why the school board has yet to implement a vaccination policy for staff.
“I just feel that things have been delayed unnecessarily. I think the board was presented with more than adequate information to base a decision on. This is a very time-sensitive matter. It’s not something where we can say we’ll table it down the road,” said Jaelene Tweedle, who remains a council member.
The school board approved a motion on Oct. 28 requesting the superintendent develop the draft policy. The policy was to come before the board on Nov. 10, but was deferred to a special meeting, date to be determined.
She said students and staff have gone above and beyond during the pandemic, and so should the board.
“Part of leadership is making those tough decisions and realizing the decision you make is not just for one person. It’s for everyone you serve. That needs to come first before personal opinions or a few angry letters,” said Tweedle, who ran unsuccessfully for school board in October.
As a parent, she said it’s hard not to worry that the next email or text from the school will say their child may have been exposed to COVID-19 and should be tested.
One of her children, who is in Grade 12, had to be tested once since September, and three times within four-and-a-half weeks at the end of the last school year.
“The staff too deserve to know they’re walking into work in the morning knowing that the risks have been reduced as much as possible.”
Both Red Deer Public Schools and Red Deer Catholic schools have lagged behind other jurisdictions in implementing policies. This week Chinook’s Edge announced that by Jan. 10 all its staff, contractors and volunteers must provide proof of full vaccination against COVID-19, or commit to regular rapid testing.
On Oct. 26, Red Deer Catholic trustees unanimously passed a motion to indefinitely postpone a decision. The superintendent was directed to gather information to answer several questions raised by trustees and report back to the board on Nov. 30.
On Friday Alberta Education critic Sarah Hoffman called on the province to immediately restore robust contact tracing in schools.
In early October the province said it was reinstating tracing with support from schools. Alberta Health Services was to take over in the next several weeks.
Hoffman said it’s still not known when contact tracing will improve in schools.
“Parents are telling us what’s in place right now is not good enough. They’re still feeling like they’re on an island and that gossip is the best way to inform one another rather than counting on public health,” Hoffman said.
She said information obtained from Alberta Health Services (AHS) shows 1,400 contact tracers were fired between May and August. At the peak of the second COVID wave there were 2,590 and just as many are needed now. The fourth wave hit five to 11-year olds hard and cases in that age group are starting to increase again.
“It definitely isn’t the robust contact tracing that I think we deserve to have confidence that everything is being done to share information, to keep people safe, to keep schools open, and to keep kids who are in those schools safe.”
Hoffman called on Education Minister Adriana LaGrange to publicly commit that contact tracing will continue in schools until the end of the school year at the very least.
Alberta Education said the department, along with Alberta Health and AHS, continue to work with school divisions on the transition to AHS led contact notification. More information on this process will be available soon.