Winnipeg’s Gray Academy of Jewish Education, which serves students from kindergarten to grade 12, will require all staff and eligible students to be fully vaccinated against COVID when classes begin next week.
Families were required to submit proof of vaccination by Sept. 2 for all children turning 12 by Dec. 31.
The policy doesn’t apply to students aged 11 and younger, as a vaccine has not yet been approved in Canada for this age group.
Once vaccine eligibility for this age group is approved, the school will re-evaluate the requirements of its COVID vaccine policy.
The mandate was the result of a unanimous decision by the Winnipeg Board of Jewish Education, which oversees the school.
“It’s about the health and safety of the entire community,” said Lori Binder, head of the school and CEO of the board.
The decision came about after several weeks of careful consideration and discussion, she said, noting it was influenced by the “what we know about Delta variant, and the likelihood of a fourth wave in Manitoba.”
“Our focus was on the students, and providing them with layers of protection,” she added.
In addition to the rise of the variants, and seeing what is happening in other places, the decision was rooted in Jewish faith, she said.
“That was one of the most important pieces, the pinnacle of what went into our decision,” she said.
This included the Jewish principle of “Pikuach Nefesh,” the Jewish imperative to save life.
“We have an obligation and ability to help one another,” she said of how Jewish faith influenced the decision.
“At the end of the day our goal is ensuring the safety of all.”
So far, the response has been “overwhelmingly positive,” Binder said, although a few families have voiced concerns.
“We will have conversations with those parents,” she said, adding “we are navigating this carefully with our Jewish values.”
If there are families who refuse to get their children vaccinated, they may be unable to send their children to the school, she said, adding she hopes that doesn’t happen.
Binder said she was heartened to see a recent statement promoting vaccinations from the Winnipeg Council of Rabbis.
While Gray Academy is opting for a vaccine mandate, the King David High School in Vancouver, which offers grades 8 to 12, will follow the B.C. Ministry of Education guidelines for opening.
This will require all students and staff to wear a mask and follow other health and safety measures.
According to a spokesperson at the school, “we will follow whatever the Ministry recommends,” adding the school currently doesn’t have a vaccine mandate in place.