REGINA – Saskatchewan says it will not require children to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test to attend school or extracurricular activities, unless there are unusual circumstances.
Health Minister Paul Merriman says the Saskatchewan Party government’s focus is to keep children in classrooms and that including them in the province’s vaccine passport program is off the table.
“They have been in and out of classrooms, and it has been a huge challenge for the students and the teachers,” Merriman said. “We want to try to make it as normal as possible … so that these young children learn, but also be diligent about the virus.”
Health Canada approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages five to 11 on Friday. The provinces could start offering doses next week.
On Monday, Saskatchewan will release details on how it plans to vaccinate about 115,000 children in that age group. The province expects to receive 112,000 initial doses.
This weekend, students attending a volleyball tournament at Swift Current Comprehensive High School will still need to show proof of vaccination or a negative test to participate.
The Chinook School Division does not have a vaccination mandate, but the area’s medical health officer established a policy because the school has an active COVID-19 outbreak, a division spokeswoman said.
“There may be special situations where, if there is an outbreak in a school, other provisions may apply,” added Saskatchewan Medical Health Director Dr. Saqib Shahab.
Some organizations ask for stricter measures.
In August, the Saskatchewan Federation of Teachers asked the government to order vaccinations for anyone who goes to schools, including teachers, staff and students. In October, the province’s 21 medical health officials sent a letter to Merriman recommending that children 12 and older show proof of immunization for classroom learning and extracurricular activities.
“You have the right to an education, but not to go to school,” federation president Patrick Maze said. “We will still give them an education. But if you choose not to get vaccinated, then we can offer that education online because you are putting people at risk. “
Various school divisions have introduced vaccination mandates for staff, but the province said the situation is different for students.
“I justify it because the staff and teachers are employees of the school divisions. The students are provincial students, ”said Education Minister Dustin Duncan. “They are minors and have the right to education.”
Shahab said she wants to avoid a situation where unvaccinated children who are eligible to receive a vaccine cannot attend classroom learning or other activities.
“It is not their fault that their parents decided not to vaccinate them,” he said.
Duncan said there are 27,000 school-age children who remain unvaccinated.
Health and education officials are working to establish clinics in schools. Duncan said the government is also working on a plan to ensure anti-vaccination protesters do not show up in schools, as they have in hospitals.
The province currently requires proof of vaccination or a negative test for anyone over the age of 12 to enter non-essential venues, including restaurants, theaters, gyms, and event venues.
According to the public health order, parents can answer for those under the age of 18. Shahab said that will not change.
This Canadian Press report was first published on November 19, 2021.
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