A Winnipeg school is requiring not just its staff to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but its eligible students too.
Gray Academy of Jewish Education, an independent Jewish junior kindergarten to Grade 12 school, says all students turning 12 by Dec. 31 must give proof of vaccination to attend this forthcoming school year.
Parents who have not yet had their kids fully vaccinated will be given time to get a 1st and 2nd dose, as per a memo that was released to Gray Academy students and staff on Tuesday.
The policy goes a step further than the vaccination mandate for all teachers and child-care workers the region announced earlier in the day.
That mandate requires teachers and other staff in schools to be fully vaccinated by October 31, meaning they must get their 1st dose no later than Sep. 7, the first day of school, and their 2nd dose by Oct. 17.
Gray Academy’s mandate was the result of a unanimous decision by its board after a long discussion this weekend, as per Bryan Borzykowski, president of the Winnipeg of Jewish Education, which supervises the school.
“When it came down to it, it does go back to the health of the kids, the health of the staff, the teachers and our community,” he said.
Gray Academy is also asking all of its staff, volunteers, third-party service providers and visitors to be vaccinated as well.
The institution has received some queries from parents regarding the mandate but overall the response has been positive, according to Lori Binder, CEO of Gray Academy.
“I will say that the feedback between the rollout of the staff policy, and so far with this one, has been relief and gratitude.”
Binder said officials will work with those who are hesitant to get a shot of a COVID-19 vaccine and even have a parent who’s a doctor and is willing to give vaccines at his clinic.
But if there are families who refuse to get their kids vaccinated, “it could be that we’re unable to have that student in the school, as the main focus is the health and safety and well-being of the entire school community,” Binder said.
“I hope that won’t be the case, but I’m also a realist and understand that there may be that circumstance,” she said.
“But that’s certainly not what we hope.”
Vaccine mandates reasonable: ethicist
Requiring all students to get a vaccine against diseases isn’t something new, as schools have an obligation to keep children safe whereas they are in their care, said Neil McArthur, director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba.
“That’s one of their most basic duties. We place our children in their hands and we want to know that our children are going to be safe while they’re at school,” he said.
“So I think the vaccine mandates are what are the essential tools in the middle of a pandemic that schools have to make sure they’re filling, fulfilling that basic ethical duty to keep our kids safe.”
The school will make exemptions for medical or religious reasons. However, they must offer verification from a physician or other documentation to support their claim, according to the school’s policy.
Ahead of the region’s announcement Tuesday, many school units had already said they will make face masks compulsory for all students, staff and visitors when classes resume this fall, and were considering rules for vaccines.
McArthur says so long as schools leave some room for those exemptions, such mandates are not discriminatory. He points out that there are several choices, like as not having a driver’s licence, that limit our ability to do things in society to keep the community safe.
“There’s all kinds of personal choices that people make that lead to restrictions as the society for the public good,” he said.
“And I think with COVID, this is a clear case where we can’t let people exempt themselves from something that’s protecting all of us.”