The Northwest School Division is finally making the grade.

This is according to Dr. Gavin Van de Venter, chief of staff at the Meadow Lake Hospital, who is delighted with the news NWSD staff will soon be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or regularly tested to work in Meadow Lake and area schools.

“I believe the school board made the right decision by requiring staff to be double vaccinated,” Van de Venter said. “This is not a provincial mandate, but rather each individual school board making the decision and it appears there is a large consensus following this route.”

The new requirement, which takes effect Jan. 10, applies to: all permanent, temporary, substitute and casual employees; community coaches; volunteers; post-secondary students on educational or professional placements; school community council members (if meetings are held in-person at school facilities); contracted student transportation drivers; contractors working in division facilities during school/office hours; and individuals providing professional services and individuals with external programs in schools.

However, it does not apply to: students; parents or caregivers dropping off or picking up students; spectators at extracurricular activities; or participants in after-hours rentals in a school.

According to NWSD director of education Duane Hauk, the new requirement will be enforced at all NWSD buildings, including offices.

“Where we are now is the same place as every other school division in the province,” remarked NWSD board chair Glen Winkler. “People have a choice of getting a vaccine or getting tested – whichever they prefer. They can have proof of vaccination or a negative test.”

While the NWSD board itself did not put forward a motion to make vaccines mandatory, Winkler said, on Nov. 25, the board did ask Hauk to put together an administrative procedure.

“He did that and presented it to the board Thursday (Dec. 9),” Winkler explained. “He talked to the health authority and other school divisions in the province about their models, as well as with Saskatchewan School Boards Association legal, and so on. He did all that preliminary work and presented us with a document that gets it done. We told him to write it. There was no motion Dec. 9. We had already passed a motion to have him do this, and he did it.”

The Jan. 10 date, Winkler added, was selected as a way of giving staff about a month’s time to prepare.

“We want to start the testing on a Monday, and it will give people time to get the vaccine if they don’t like the test,” he said.

He also said, while most staff members will likely comply, there are some who may be apprehensive about getting the vaccine.

“I’m sure there are people who won’t be happy about the word ‘vaccine’ but my understanding is 81 per cent of the people in our area have had at least one dose, so it’s a pretty small minority,” Winkler added. “They can be a vocal minority, but in an effort to keep everyone safe and in listening to our health leaders in the province, we are just doing what makes sense. We have a duty to keep our students and the other staff safe, and we are now caught up to the other school divisions in the province.”

by Phil Ambroziak