School association president says minister’s letter sows confusion

A fracas over proof of COVID-19 vaccination at a Swift Current volleyball game in Swift Current has swelled into a province-wide hubbub.

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A fracas over proof of COVID-19 vaccinations at a volleyball game in Swift Current became a political issue on Thursday as Saskatchewan school divisions were puzzled by an apparent change in government advice provincial on COVID-19.

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Education Minister Dustin Duncan wrote to school division presidents on Wednesday, warning them not to exclude unvaccinated students from after-school activities after some of his Weyburn constituents complained about a proof requirement vaccination at an upcoming provincial championship game, where a local medical officer of health implemented the measure because the host school is in an active outbreak of COVID-19.

Saskatchewan School Boards Association president Shawn Davidson said Duncan’s letter has caused confusion among the province’s 27 divisions, none of which have policies limiting what a student can do if they don’t. is not vaccinated or does not provide proof of a negative test.

“Confusion is a fair term when it comes to what she created,” Davidson said.

The confusion was also apparent in the Legislative Assembly, where NDP education critic Carla Beck accused Duncan of pandering to vaccine opponents. Duncan accused the opposition of wanting to deny unvaccinated children the chance to go to school.

At one point, NDP Leader Ryan Meili was asked and agreed to withdraw his use of the word “criminal.”

NDP Education Critic Carla Beck accused Minister Dustin Duncan of
NDP Education Critic Carla Beck accused Minister Dustin Duncan of “twisting political rhetoric.” Photo by TROY FLEECE /Regina Chief’s Post

Neither party explicitly supports the exclusion of unvaccinated children from extracurricular activities.

Duncan said he sent the letter to clarify the government’s position that extracurricular activities are as essential as classroom learning.

“We have always said that the ability to participate in school learning and school activities should not be dictated or determined by a student’s immunization status,” Duncan said.

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The decision to require proof of vaccination or a recent negative test at the Swift Current tournament, however, was not made by the Chinook School Division, but by the local medical officer of health, who has the authority, under public health provincial government, to introduce stricter rules where deemed necessary. . Spokesperson Joanne Booth wrote in a statement that Swift Current Comprehensive High School is in an active outbreak of COVID-19.

“The Chinook School Division currently has no general requirement for students participating in extracurricular activities to be vaccinated, other than as a result of additional measures implemented by the SHA during outbreaks, for an individual who tests positive and for close contact with a positive case,” Booth wrote.

Davidson said Duncan’s letter “diverged” from previous government messages, giving divisions some leeway to implement measures on the advice of local medical officers.

The Department of Health confirmed the local agent in Swift Current, for example, recommended that attendees present proof of vaccination or a recent negative test. The ministry said it sent a letter to divisions earlier this month stating that all school events were exempt from proof of vaccination or testing requirements.

“From the feedback I received, the divisions were working on some of these challenges at their local level, which certainly led to complications,” Davidson said.

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Public health orders have made explicit exceptions to self-isolation orders and other rules to help schools operate. Duncan said he felt extracurricular activities were an integral part of it and should be exempt from proof of vaccinations or test orders.

Davidson said he agreed extracurricular activities were “vitally important” to these operations, but said he did not believe they deserved the same status as classroom learning.

“It doesn’t align with our essential service, which is education,” Davidson said. “And there’s a line there that we’re having a bit of a hard time tying it all together.”

Davidson said divisions do not have the authority to set policies at institutions where many after-school programs take place. Local curling or skating rinks owned by cities or private operators, for example, may choose or be required to request proof of vaccination or a recent negative test. Traveling sports teams may have to stop at restaurants with the same requirements, Davidson noted.

“There are so many things beyond the control of school divisions.

He worries the smash has created a public perception that divisions want to bar students from events because they aren’t vaccinated — something no school division has a policy of doing, he said. he declares.

“I think we understand the intent, that there is no government intent to implement a large-scale vaccination mandate for those who wish to participate in extracurricular activities,” Davidson said.

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“In fact, as divisions we support that, but we have to be aware that there are all these complexities that, with our communities and within the provincial health order, we have to be able to resolve. .”

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