By Cole Parkinson
With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing well into the latter stages of 2021, Horizon School Division has brought forward Policy GBA — COVID Hard Reduction.
The policy states “The Board of Trustees of Horizon School Division is committed to providing a safe and healthy learning and work environment. The division commits to protecting students and employees from injury, illness, and accidents as required by Occupational Health and Safety legislation, the Education Act, and common law. Transmittable diseases, including COVID-19, are identifiable workplace hazards. Such hazards can have a detrimental effect on health and safety, division operations, student learning, employee productivity, division costs, and employee morale. The division has legal obligations to take all reasonable steps to identify, eliminate, and control workplace hazards like COVID-19. This policy and any related procedures outline the requirements for all employees and adults working with students in horizon schools to mitigate the risk of spread of COVID-19 infection in all division facilities to protect, employees, students, and their families from the highly contagious illness during a global pandemic.”
During the board of trustees regular meeting on Oct. 28, administration explained the policy details and that it would come into effect on Dec. 1.
“A special meeting where the board was called together to provide some direction on the minister’s request to encourage board’s to develop a COVID policy, related to vaccines. And so, I have had numerous conversations with legal, with numerous school divisions,” explained Wilco Tymensen, superintendent of schools.
Tymensen also stated the board wanted a policy developed talking about mandating employees to have a negative COVID test twice a week or proof of full vaccination.
“The objective of the board was not to approach it from a ‘we want you vaccinated’, — the objective was around ensuring safety for kids and minimizing people coming into the building with COVID,” continued Tymensen. “Hence, the request to have proof of a negative COVID test. For those individuals who do not to have a negative COVID test provided twice a week, at that point you could do a one-time proof of vaccination. That would be acceptable.”
The policy explains that all employees of the board that work closely with students, including teachers, support staff, volunteers, and coaches, would need to provide information.
Parents would not fall under this policy when transporting thier kids to or from school, or extra-circular activities. It was also explained they wouldn’t need to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test when coming to watch sports.
“For the most part, our schools are not having big public gatherings in their facilities,” added Tymensen.
While Hutterite colony schools and Taber Christian School/Taber Christian High School buildings are not owned by the board, it was explained all employees would still need to follow the policy.
Trustees also are not mandated to provide a negative test or vaccination status unless interacting with students.
The policy also allows for several different types of accommodations, including religious reasons or health reasons.
“Just because you don’t want to be vaccinated doesn’t mean you have a right not to comply with the policy,” added Tymensen. “If you have a medical condition where you cannot get vaccinated — your doctor would indicate that being the case and provide medical information — they would provide. The accommodation would be you do not need to provide proof of vaccination, you show proof of a negative COVID test.”
For the first two months, those with an approved accommodation will have their tests paid for, while those who weren’t approved would have to pay out of pocket starting Dec. 1.
“In the policy, if you are approved for an accommodation, the board would pay for that accommodation for two months. After that, it would fall on your responsibility. From December 1 until the end of January,” confirmed Tymensen. “If you look under provincial or federal documentation, there are very few medical conditions. Asthma would not be one of them as an example or anxiety. There are a very small handful of medical conditions that would warrant it.”
Those who submit fraudulent information would be “deemed, during this period, to have been trespassing on school division property and shall be removed from school. Employees may also be subject to discipline up to and including termination of employment.”
First reading of the policy was carried unanimously by the board.