Protestors were making a statement about the freedom of choice regarding taking the vaccine to stay employed.
South Peace News
About 100 High Prairie School Division employees, plus parents and other supporters, attended a protest in High Prairie outside the HPSD Learning Centre Oct. 26 in support of free choice.
The protest was sparked by a HPSD board of trustees’ decision made at a special meeting Oct. 8. The motion at the meeting is as follows: “To require that all HPSD employees, volunteers, and HPSD partners follow the administrative procedure on mandatory vaccinations for COVID-19 and that the same administrative procedure be followed by all contracted service providers and tenants in HPSD buildings.”
Deadline to vaccinate [receive a second dose] is Dec. 17 which is the last day of school before the Christmas break. The policy does not apply to children or students.
Everyone questioned at the protest maintained the freedom of right to choose.
Bus driver Laura Stout presented a letter to the board. A driver since 2014, she wrote there were may challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I feel with all that’s going on HPSD is trying to kick me to the curb. This Dec. 17 mandate is a choice that you are making. Not forced by the Canadian government but recommended.
“I will not let fear take over my life,” Stout adds. “I am a fighter and a survivor, that’s who I am. I have lost a lot in my lifetime but the spirit within me will not die. I continue to stand strong and free.”
HPSD board chair Joy McGregor says mandatory vaccination is not the only option.
“. . .or providing regular negative tests,” says McGregor.
She adds there was a lengthy conversation at the board table weighing all options and variables, considering the ever- changing nature of the global pandemic
HPSD issued a news release after the meeting stating discussion included input from staff and the community, and “information presented from trusted sources about COVID-19, relevant legislation, vaccines, and other best-health practices. . .” Questions on the proposed procedure and implications from all stakeholders was taken into consideration.
“[HPSD] was advised to bring in a mandate from legal representation, the ministers of Health and Education [who wrote letters encouraging mandatory proof of vaccination], and HPSD’s insurance provider,” the news release states.
HPSD also noted the Alberta Teachers’ Association is in favour of vaccination.
Cost also concerns HPSD.
“The insurance underwriter has announced that policy premiums related to COVID-19 would be required to be payable by the Division.”
Estimated cost is $600,000.
The full news release is available on the HPSD website at www.hpsd.ca
HPSD continues to research the matter.
Currently, McGregor says there are no plans to rescind the motion; however, she adds the board recognizes the date may need to be moved “to accommodate additional information being received by our baord from reputable sources.”
McGregor says HPSD is not interested in interfering with freedom of choice.
“We have directed senior management to continue developing an administrative procedure to address mandating COVID-19 proof-of-vaccination for its employees and other adults who work directly with students. This procedure will include the use of rapid testing to support those eligible for accommodation under Human Rights legislation.
“We are also hoping to be able to secure enough of the rapid test kits to make them available to all those who have a personal conviction against being vaccinated,” she adds.
McGregor adds the procedure will be reviewed to ensure it can be rescinded when the COVID-19 situation, and the pressures on the health care system, are lessened.
Bus driver Candace Barber attended the protest.
“When the mandate came out Oct. 12. . .we started talking amongst ourselves. We all soon discovered that we were not alone, there were many of us. We soon realized there are at least 40+ staff and bus drivers who are, and who will be, negatively affected by the mandate. This does not include the many contractors, contract bus drivers, volunteers or parents, or any other staff that we are unaware of.”
Barber adds she was encouraged by the support received.
“As a protester standing up for my right to choose my own medical treatments, the heart- warming words we heard by all: Thank you for assuring me I am not alone. Thank you for standing up and thank you for your support as we are all in this together.”
McGregor recognizes the protesters’ right to gather and express their opinions.
“We are always interested in the opinions of our constituents, staff, and students. We did not take this decision lightly but needed to weigh both sides of this issue when we made our decision.
“We do not wish to question a person’s personal conviction, opinion, or feelings and are sorry that this has caused undue anxiety for some. That being said, we are trying to put in place processes in the administrative procedure to make this administrative procedure as inclusive as possible while attending to our fiduciary responsibilities.”
The loss of employees is something HPSD does not want to see, especially bus drivers. There is a chronic shortage of drivers in the Division and recruitment is ongoing.
“We do not want to lose any employees,” says McGregor.
“All of our staff members are valued, and we care very deeply for them. We have strategies in place to help people meet the requirements in this administrative procedure and hope that we can provide testing material to those employees who choose not to be vaccinated to ensure their livelihood is not compromised.”
Stout staunchly supports freedom of choice.
“I grew up in a country that used to be an awesome home. Sadly, I don’t recognize it any longer. It’s overrun by bullies.”
McGregor says safety is HPSD’s priority.
“Our priority throughout the pandemic has been to keep our schools safe, healthy, and open for students and staff.”