By Cole Parkinson
The Horizon School Board of Trustees have approved Policy GBA — COVID Harm Reduction.
After carrying first reading of the policy at their regular meeting on Oct. 28, the policy was brought back for second and third readings at their Nov. 29 meeting. A motion to approve second reading with an amendment stating the division provides COVID tests to staff at schools until division supplies are gone with testing at school was put forward before the discussion began.
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.”
“There are 11 or 12 people that have been pretty passionate,” explained Wilco Tymensen, superintendent of schools. “Some of those individuals will have a variety of arguments as far as why it goes against their beliefs or their rights. Some of those, I would say are misinformed. They are claiming it’s discrimination and against (their) personal choice. From a legal perspective, we can’t discriminate against a personal choice — this determination specifically in law refers to going against a protected ground and the Alberta Human Rights Commission has already claimed personal choice is not a protected ground.”
“Some have claimed their First Amendment right, that’s an American claim and this is Canada. I will say some of those components where they are using misinformation, they are citing consent legislation for Alberta Health Services which we aren’t actually covered by. They do speak passionately about their beliefs,” continued Tymensen.
While some have expressed dismay over the policy, others were strongly in favour.
“There are some individuals who have communicated with the board very strongly in support of keeping people safe and doing your part to combat a pandemic. Ultimately, when you look at the division, I think the vast majority of individuals are vaccinated. There are a number of individuals who have indicated they are not, but they are open to being tested and they have no problem with that piece. I think the biggest concern coming from those individuals is in some cases they live an hour or an hour and a half away from a pharmacy,” added Tymensen.
Those wanting to go the testing route would need to be tested twice a week. One particular concern being raised was from part-time and casual workers who stated it may cost them more money to get tested twice a week than what they were being paid.
With the division acquiring some rapid test kits, the board felt this was a way to ease those concerns for some individuals.
“The amendment allows us to help those who have concerns,” added Maxwell Holst, trustee.
With the pandemic continuing at the end of 2021, the division doesn’t know the timeline for how long the policy will be in effect.
“Ultimately, I do not know how long this policy will be in place for. Some lawyers have stated that if the government made a recommendation and the health minister made a recommendation and you put this in place, it should probably stay in place until that recommendation is gone,” stated Tymensen.
It was stated around 500 employees had responded to whether or not they were vaccinated or not, and there was approximately 100 who had not as of Nov. 29.
“The argument is two-fold. It’s about ‘my privacy. I don’t want to share my information and you have no right to this’ and it’s also about ‘Big Brother forcing things on my freedoms’. Some may not have opposition other than ‘how dare you tell me what to do’,” said Tymensen.
The board approved second reading with the amendment and third reading of the policy.
To read the full COVID Harm Reduction policy, see http://www.horizon.ab.ca/download/374463.