Opposition says Sask. education minister 'downloaded' vaccination mandate responsibilities onto school boards

·3 min read
Education Minister Dustin Duncan suggested on Wednesday that school divisions can ask third party facilities like city rinks to waive their vaccine policy so high school kids who are unvaccinated can play.  (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)
Education Minister Dustin Duncan suggested on Wednesday that school divisions can ask third party facilities like city rinks to waive their vaccine policy so high school kids who are unvaccinated can play. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)

The Official Opposition says Saskatchewan's Education Minister is piling too much responsibility onto school boards when it comes to vaccine mandates for extra-curricular activities.

Minister Dustin Duncan suggested on Wednesday that school divisions can ask third party facilities like city rinks to waive their vaccine policy so high school kids who are unvaccinated can play.

On Nov. 17, Education Minister Dustin Duncan wrote a letter to all school boards in the province stating that all children should be allowed to attend extracurricular functions, regardless of their vaccine status.

However, in an interview with CBC Radio host Stefani Langenegger on The Morning Edition, Duncan said a public health order would trump any directive his office put out.

"If a public health officer orders some sort of mandate, then I would expect the school division would comply with an order," Duncan told The Morning Edition.

"My view is that if it's a recommendation, that we would look to preserve the ability for students, regardless of their vaccination status, to take part in in-class learning and other activities that have been provided by the school."

The NDP said Duncan is shirking the province's responsibility to ensure the safety of Saskatchewan schools.

Duncan sent an additional memo to school division board chairs on Nov. 30. He directed them not to exclude any students from extracurricular activities, regardless whether that school is currently listed as an outbreak or the student is coming from a school in outbreak.

The NDP say this new directive contradicts the Minister's own statements hours earlier on CBC Radio.

"I think the very last thing that this minister has created is clarity with that letter. I think frustration, confusion ... but not clarity," said NDP Education Critic Carla Beck.

"This minister who ... has downloaded these responsibilities onto school boards, has told them that they need to work this out with their local medical health officer, that they need to make the decisions at the local level.

"Frankly, I believe that was to keep the anger about some of those decisions away from his office and direct it to those school board trustees."

The NDP said Duncan's statements on students in schools with outbreaks interfere with local COVID-19 health orders.

"To see him disrespect both the decisions made by school boards, but by local medical health officers as well when they are tasked with keeping kids safe, when we have sports coming online, such as wrestling [and] basketball ..."

Matt Howard/CBC
Matt Howard/CBC

Beck said she has heard from many coaches directly who signed up to lead extra-curricular activities believing that there would be some vaccine protections in place.

Last month, 21 medical health officers from across the province sent a letter to Health Minister Paul Merriman. They asked that any facility hosting youth sports or extracurricular activities be required to get proof of vaccination from participants.

Duncan responded to this during question period at the legislature in Regina on Wednesday.

"The board doesn't, in my view, need to even be talking about that because it's getting into the area of mandating vaccines for participating in sports, and it's not a theoretical issue," said Duncan.

"We have had local medical health officers that have recommended to government that both for extracurricular and in-class learning, that access should be limited for only vaccinated students. And this is just, I think, a way for me to to remove that conversation from the board table at local school boards because I think it's a bigger question than just a local issue."

Beck criticized Duncan's refusal to implement a vaccination requirement or proof of negative testing.

"I can only imagine how frustrating this is for boards. We've heard publicly, privately. It's been a long 22 months for everyone. This is a heck of a time for the minister to step in and start throwing his weight around."

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