ROCKY VIEW— Rocky View Schools Board of Trustees is calling on Alberta Health to provide more data and transparency about the impact of COVID-19 on student families and pushing for vaccinations for all school staff.
Ward 5 Trustee Judi Hunter called on the board to send a letter to Alberta of Minster Health Tyler Shandro asking for increased accountability, assurance and transparency regarding Alberta Health's recent COVID-19 related decisions and their effect on student’s mental health and well-being. She also asked the board to advocate for staff vaccinations.
“I’ve been struggling with this issue for some time. When we took our oath of office, we committed to acting in the best interest of our students and our families,” Hunter said.
Two separate letters are being drafted by Rocky View Schools for Alberta Health one regarding student mental health and well-being and one regarding staff vaccinations.
Vaccinations will be essential in helping teachers feel safe in school and helping families feel teachers will be less likely to transmit the virus, Hunter said.
She added while it is important to recognize Alberta Health is doing the best it can, she remains concerned with the lack of transparency about how decisions are made given the impacts on families, businesses and the economy.
There has been an increase in suicide and suicide attempts during the pandemic among young people, she said, along with increases in eating disorders, opioid overdoses and other mental health issues.
“When I think about a suicide and you weigh that against a death by COVID, they’re both COVID-related and they're both impacts we cannot take lightly,” Hunter said.
Looking at the legislation or rules put in place by Alberta Health, Hunter said, she wants to know the negative impacts of lockdowns have been weighed against the potential benefits.
Hunter added she has received letters from community members calling for greater transparency from Alberta Health.
Rocky View Schools receives daily communication from Alberta Health, but after a year of data collection analytics must be available demonstrating sending children home is effective and a best practice, she said.
“For me personally, I have seen none of those analytics,” Hunter said.
The cycle of isolation and quarantine is raising students and family's anxieties, she said, and this is impacting mental health. These circumstances force difficult choices between mental health and education when families are choosing online or in-person learning.
She added the constant shift between in-person and online schooling creates more work for staff when students are sent home due to exposure to the virus.
“I think we are due justification and understanding of the reasons why we have this,” Hunter said. “If we’re sending home a hundred and some kids at a time because of a close contact and we’re sending x number of teachers home because of a close contact I want to know that the research and the data that we have support.”
The data provided by Alberta Health will help Rocky View Schools understand the decisions being made and allow for an exploration of alternative solutions, Hunter said.
“Is this the only path forward, is this founded and grounded in research— I want to know,” Hunter said.
Ward 1 Trustee Shali Baziuk echoed Hunter and respected the difficulty and uncertainty students have faced moving in and out of quarantine and isolation.
“I don’t pretend to have any idea on why decisions like this are made … I like numbers and after a year or more there ought to be a number to be had,” Baziuk said.
It has been difficult to reconcile the need to keep schools open with staff not being prioritized for vaccinations, she said.
She added the Alberta School Board Association is also advocating for the vaccination of staff, along with the Calgary Catholic School District and Edmonton Public Schools.
“I’m glad we’re lending our voice to the provincial voice because hopefully a bunch of voices together will get heard,” Baziuk said.
Ward 3 Trustee Jim Forrest supported sending the letter asking for greater transparency from Alberta Health.
The board works hard to be transparent and communicate information to the community, he said, and it is fair to ask the same of Alberta Health.
“We need to be able to have the information to do the best job that we can for our stakeholders and the people that we serve,” Forrest said.