Employees and parents bring concerns over vaccine mandate to Sask Rivers board

The Sask Rivers Education Centre/ Daily Herald File Photo

A delegation of employees and parents have asked the Saskatchewan Rivers School Division board to reconsider the vaccine policy introduced in October.

Delegation speakers Cheryl Yungwirth and Neru Franc made a 15 minute presentation during Monday’s school board meeting. Yungwirth has been an Educational Associate (EA) for over 20 years while Franc has been a consultant through SaskSport grants for over five years.

“I believe safety is important but encouraging employees to vaccinate or test to control COVID-19 is both unethical and unnecessary,” Yungwirth said.

“Never before have you had to show a negative test for a flu to go to work,” she added.

Sask. Rivers Education Director Robert Bratvold said the school board won’t make any changes without more information.

“The board didn’t make any decision to remake the (policy) that the delegation wants us to reconsider,” he said. “The board hears the information from the delegation, has asked for some additional information and will be making a decision one way or the other in response to that delegation at a future meeting.”

Bratvold added that the board appreciates having delegations speak.

“The board really does appreciate the opportunity to hear from the public and they recognize that is part of their role as a local government is to be open, be transparent and be receptive to the public,” he explained. “It sometimes results in challenging conversations but it still is a good part of democracy and part of openness and transparency,” he said.

Yungwirth has been employed for over 20 years as an Educational Associate. She said she loves her job, children and fellow employees, respects her employer and is proud to be employed by the division. However, she’s worried the division’s vaccination policy, which requires proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test, denies basic human rights, infringes on Canadian law, and forces individuals to undergo unwanted medical treatments.

Yungwirth and Franc were among roughly a dozen people who attended the meeting to raise their concerns. Yungwirth said all have emailed the division outlining their problems with the policy. She also presented three more handwritten letters at the meeting.

Yungwirth cited various open letters and documents from the World Health Organization and Pfizer to make her points. She declared that testing people without symptoms was not logical because the virus does not spread asymptomatically but through air particles.

Even though the division’s policy does not force anyone to get vaccinated, Yungwirth fears that may change in the future.

“Ultimately it has been the parent’s choice to vaccinate,” she told the board. “My fear is that if we then mandate our parents and children to vaccinate, then we may have some very angry and disgruntled parents which in turn will then start removing their children from our schools. If this happens our divisions will have less funding which will then put a strain on our already stretched budgets.

“In the end, it should be the staff and parent’s choice if they want to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or not. As a board, we should not be forcing them to make a decision to either vaccinate or test. It’s their body their choice.”

Yungwirth also argued the policy will cause segregation and discrimination against people who choose not to get vaccinated. She said the provincial and federal governments recognized their history of both on Orange Shirt Day in September, but continues to segregate and discriminate against those who are not vaccinated today.

“Having to force testing and vaccines on both of them (parents and students) is both morally and ethically irresponsible,” she said. “The parents and the children are the backbone of our school divisions without them we do not have jobs, the parents pay taxes in our divisions and therefore they have every right to be in our facilities along with any city and rural facility.”

Yungwirth also said that her brother had a severe reaction to his vaccination and cannot get another one and has had to be hospitalized four times.

Yungwirth said the board needs to find a more constructive way to fight COVID-19. When asked if she had talked to healthcare professionals about this matter, she said she’d consulted her doctor.

Trustee Grant Gustafson asked her to provide a better alternative for handling the COVID-19 virus.

“The amount of work we have put into this is obviously not sitting well with you,” he said. “I would be interested in a comprehensive report from you as to what a better alternative would be because I am okay with us evaluating something like that as a board but it has to be as comprehensive as the board has gotten into working on our (policy).”

Yungwirth will be providing the board with her comprehensive way to fight COVID-19.

Sask. Rivers board chair Barry Hollick emphasized that the board has not been making health decisions on their own, but in consultation with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA).

Franc, who works at Princess Margaret and W.J. Berezowsky School as a consultant, said that she was speaking on behalf of vulnerable families. She said parents were concerned about the what is happening in the schools, and worried the mandate will trickle down to their children.

“In some homes, they believe it is their choice to be vaccinated and in my stance, i believe it is their choice as well,” she said.

Franc said many families who spoke with her are not comfortable discussing the policy publicly, so she plans on keeping the names in confidence unless they step forward.

“I moved here from South Africa when I was three years old. My parents left apartheid in 1980,” she said. “We talk about storytelling, and we talk about passing on information. They have passed that on to me, and this is what I am seeing: it is almost a form of medical apartheid.”

In the question portion Gustafson emphasized that forcing vaccinations has never crossed the board table. Franc said that the parents she is representing believe this could happen and questioned the motivation.

“My motivation is, after seeing friends and relatives die of COVID, we are committed to trying to what we can,” Gustafson said.

When asked how many families she was representing Franc explained that it was about 60 of 350 families she worked with.