The Chinook School Division has extended the period to cover the cost of COVID-19 self-testing kits for staff until the end of March 2022.
Board members approved a motion during a special Chinook Board of Education meeting on Nov. 22 to continue to pay for these kits for an additional three months and then review the policy again at that time.
The Chinook School Division started to implement an administrative procedure during November requiring staff to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or provide weekly negative test results. Employees had to make a choice between showing proof of being fully vaccinated by Nov. 5 or submit weekly negative test results starting Nov. 15.
The school division initially undertook to cover the costs of the COVID-19 self-testing kits until Dec. 31, but indicated the board will review the number of tests that will be required by Dec. 1 to determine if the school division will extend the time period to cover the cost of these kits.
Chinook Director of Education Mark Benesh spoke to the Prairie Post after the board’s decision during the special meeting to continue paying for the cost of the self-testing kits until March 31, 2022.
“The board did make the decision that they were comfortable for that period of time covering the purchase,” he said. “It’s a little less than what people would have to be paying if they went outside to a third party, because we buy these in bulk, and we’ve done it just to support our staff and students and families across the division already. So we do have some. It will cost the board some dollars, but they felt that they want to support the safety of our buildings.”
He noted the school division acted proactively to order COVID-19 self-testing kits in advance to have a supply available to keep schools safe.
“So right now, I think we’re in a place that we easily have enough for the first part of our process,” he said. “I don’t know if it will take us all the way to March 31, but it would take us partway there.”
The school division is not disclosing details about the level of vaccination in the organization, but Benesh said the majority of staff are vaccinated.
“We’re happy with how it’s gone, but it’s just not information we’re comfortable sharing,” he noted.
He felt positive about the response of staff to the Chinook School Division’s COVID-19 vaccination and testing administrative procedure.
“I think it’s been received fairly well,” he said. “I think people see it as fair, and with the board providing the tests I think people appreciated that option for them and so I would say, into the second week here, we’re happy how it’s gone so far.”
The administrative procedure’s requirement for proof of vaccination or negative test only applies to Chinook School Division employees, board members, and other individuals defined in section 1 of procedure. It does not apply to students or to individuals, including parents and caregivers, who visit the school infrequently or only for short periods of time.
“It would apply to anyone else who would be coming into our facilities frequently,” he explained. “It could be a volunteer, it could be a presenter.”
He referred to the example of representatives from Stark & Marsh, who attended the special meeting to make a presentation about the annual auditor’s report to board members.
“We did ask them to ensure that they could meet the criteria,” he said. “So it impacts contractors, it impacts pretty much anyone who is in our buildings consistently or frequently.”
He added that members of school community councils probably will have to adhere to the policy, because they are regularly going into school buildings.
“They’re consistently coming in and it’s not for five minutes,” he said. “If some parents come in to pick up kids or short conversations, they’re not going to be required for those things. In the AP [administrative procedure] it’s frequent, and we didn’t put a time element into the duration, but we would want to ensure that if a presenter was coming into a school, let’s say to do all morning on something, that we would have to ensure that they’re safe to come into the building.”
The Saskatchewan Health Authority has started with the rollout of vaccine clinics for children aged 5-11. Some of the clinics in Swift Current will take place after school in the elementary schools, but not in rural schools. A parent or guardian must provide consent for the vaccination and the consent form can be downloaded from the Chinook School Division website.
“Health has reached out to communicate, as they did when it was 12 to 17,” Benesh said. “In our rural communities those vaccination sites will all be community centres. They won’t have anything to do with schools. We might help just to put information out on their behalf and then for the city schools they have asked to use our buildings, but it will be outside of school times. So there won’t be anything happening during the school day.”