Teachers advocating for phase 1 vaccine eligibility

STF president Patrick Maze./submitted photo

Teachers and their advocates have been making it known that they should be changed to be included in frontline workers eligible for a vaccine.

The province, on the other hand believes that teachers can get their shot when their age group becomes available.

Health Minister Paul Merriman said during a press conference on Tuesday that both teachers and corrections officers are eligible if their age category comes online with the province.

“And again teachers are included in our age sequencing if there is some teachers out there I think this is towards the end of the break if there is an opportunity on the weekend to go to the drive thru and I might encourage any of them to do that,” Merriman said.

STF president Patrick Maze explained that under this idea it could be weeks before teachers are vaccinated.

“I just had a message the other night from a teacher in Saskatchewan who is very concerned because she said that in conversations with her students they all came back after the Easter break, one of them was in Manitoba, one of them was in Alberta, many of them got together with families and she is 24. She is going to have a long ways to go until she can get vaccinated and she is quite frustrated she has got an immunocompromised person in her immediate family and feels that her current situation is putting her family at risk,” Maze said.

Saskatchewan Rivers School Division director of education Robert Bratvold understands the province’s perspective but said the age sequence is seen by some as problematic.

The division’s workforce is mostly under the age of 50. That means their turn to get vaccinated is still a ways away.

Maze added that Educational Assistants can be as young as 18-years-old.

“It is a challenging thing to learn that the province is making some adjustments to their vaccine rollout, to other firemen, police and those sort of folks and I think there is some logic to that and it makes sense but it’s hard to accept that school staffs aren’t included in that group. It’s hard to accept,” Bratvold added.

On Monday the province added targeted vaccinations of first responders including police officers, fire fighters and public health inspectors and said vaccines will be dispatched to central workplace settings. Grocery store workers will be added to the front of the line when pharmacies start receiving vaccines in April.

Maze argues that teachers and all school staff including educational assistants and others are frontline workers and also deserve prioritization.

“We have a hard enough time with the supports in education as it is without expecting just teachers to go in. We are asking the province quickly designates (frontline education staff) as a priority. You also have to figure that it’s a few weeks after you get vaccinated that you are actually considered to be protected from the virus while you build up immunity and here the end of the school year is at the end of June so we are kind of on a ticking time, the clock is ticking. It would have been really nice if government would have planned this more appropriately and effectively and had teachers have the ability to come in and get vaccinated over the Easter break,” Maze said.

Another teacher from Saskatoon who was in contact with Maze described the current situation as the greatest occupational health and safety issue staff has seen in decades.

“All school staff should be vaccinated in order to be able to be at our best and continue operations with our students and if any group amongst that school staff team is missing than the schools won’t be able to operate as effectively,” he added.

“I think until school staffs are vaccinated they are being put in a really difficult position,” Maze said.

Bratvold made a similar argument

“It’s not just about teachers, it’s about educational assistants and support workers and all kinds of things and that’s hard to digest,” he said.

Bratvold understands the rationale because school divisions have the option to move to Level 4, or online learning while people such as EMS and police don’t necessarily have that option.

“I get that, it still doesn’t make it all that easier but I get it. The other thing I guess I understand is within our schools our staff have a little bit more of an opportunity for a controlled environment than you might get in some of the EMS situations like responding to emergencies and those things. So in that controlled environment you have access to Grade 11s with PPE that can be a managed,” Bratvold said.

School divisions in Prince Albert and across the province work with their local health officials to decide how much learning to do in person or online.

“I think it’s important to just continue the message that school divisions are working closely with the local health team and we will continue to do that,” Bratvold said.

Maze applauded divisions that went to remote learning, including Regina Public, Regina Catholic and Prairie Valley for their decision because not having teachers vaccinated right now is dangerous.

“That’s a really responsible decision that they are making,” he said.

Maze explained that he was aware of a variant case connected to Carlton Comprehensive in Prince Albert and that variants are a concern in places like Humboldt, Strasbourg and Saskatoon.

“But at the same point we know that the variant has been at Carlton in Prince Albert. So to think that Prince Albert is safe, it’s not. To think Saskatoon for the longest time thought that they were safe, they are not and the variant we have seen go through Strasbourg and up into Humboldt and into Saskatoon.”

Maze is not happy with the wait and see attitude he says exists in the province.

“It’s really frustrating and Saskatchewan really seems to be a wait and see and until it gets here and then we’ll react and it’s the absolute worst response when you are dealing with a highly contagious variant of a virus that’s already caused a global pandemic,” he said.