Teachers need to be prioritized for vaccination against COVID-19 to keep in-class learning viable, says a Red Deer Public Schools spokesperson.
“It’s essential that our staff stay safe and well — this is the key to keeping kids in school,” said the district’s community relations director Bruce Buruma.
He noted that at least six Alberta schools have had to go back to at-home learning because so many students and staff experienced virus exposure.
On Monday, St. Joseph High School in the Red Deer Catholic School district switched all of its 750 students back to two weeks of home learning. Other schools in Edmonton, the Drumheller area and Okotoks have also had to temporarily cancel in-person classes.
Only four COVID-19 cases have cropped up in the Red Deer Public Schools since classes resumed after the winter break. “It’s been nominal,” said Buruma, who’s hoping cases stay low or manageable.
Alberta’s four largest school districts — public and Catholic school boards in Edmonton and Calgary — want to preempt more school outbreaks.
They recently sent a letter to Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro, asking him to recognize teachers as essential workers who should be high priority for the COVID-19 vaccine.
Buruma said trustees intend to discuss how to support the lobbying effort of Edmonton and Calgary schools boards to get teachers moved up the list.
Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools Superintendent Kathleen Finnigan said her board also supports accelerating vaccinations.
“Staff and student safety is our top priority. We hope that staff and students will be considered as a priority for COVID-19 vaccinations. This will be an additional measure to what we already have implemented in our schools to help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said Finnigan.
So far, 101,123 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Alberta. These have mostly gone to staff and residents of long-term care homes, workers in hospital emergency departments, intensive care, respiratory and home care and who work in hospital COVID-19 units. Paramedics and emergency medical responders were also included in this initial phase.
Starting next month (and depending on vaccine supply), seniors who are 75 or older, and First Nations and Métis people age 65 and older are slated for vaccinations.
Buruma said public school officials understand vaccine supplies are limited and many vulnerable populations are “in the queue.
“We will rely on the direction provided by the medical officer of health,” but will still be advocating for vaccinations for teachers to keep learning in the classroom, he added.
While children younger than 16 are not slated to receive any COVID-19 vaccinations, young children can still pass on the virus, even if they do not get sick themselves, said Buruma.
Alberta Health has made no decisions yet about who will be included in Phase 2 of vaccinations. Much will depend on how many doses of vaccine are delivered to Alberta in the weeks ahead.
that vaccine supplies are limited while