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Post-secondaries should scrap COVID-19 measures, return to campus: UCP


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Alberta’s minister in charge of post-secondaries is telling Alberta’s universities and colleges he expects in-person classes to resume next month without masking or proof-of-vaccination requirements.

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Post-secondary institutions should match their COVID-19 policies with those of the United Conservative government, Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides said in a letter to schools. The province announced earlier this week it plans to remove nearly all public-health measures against COVID-19 by March 1.

“It is my expectation that all of Alberta’s universities, colleges and polytechnics will align their COVID-19 policies and practices with that of Alberta’s Government,” Nicolaides said in the letter, posted to his Twitter account Wednesday afternoon.

“As we start inviting students back to campus, please continue to promote vaccination and follow the current health orders and guidance, as appropriate.”

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The directive marks a deviation from plans currently in place on Calgary campuses.

In an email sent to students Tuesday, the University of Calgary said they would not be making any immediate changes to its proof-of-vaccine program or mandatory masking policy, with a further update expected.

Mount Royal University announced Wednesday morning it continued to work with public-health authorities and the province with its approach, but that its current vaccine mandate remained in effect.

“MRU has an obligation to the members of its community to take all reasonable steps to ensure its campus is a safe place to learn, teach and work,” the university said.

Bow Valley College also told Postmedia it is working with government but its vaccine and mask policies remain in effect, saying they “appreciate everyone will have varying comfort levels with a return to campus.” SAIT did not immediately respond to request for update; the polytechnic has said it will assess the province’s announcement before making changes to its current COVID-19 safety protocols.

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Each school plans to return to in-person learning by Feb. 28, after moving some courses online in response to the Omicron wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Legally, post-secondary vaccination policies are able to remain in effect even with the removal of the province’s vaccine passport, said U of C health law expert Lorian Hardcastle.

She described the letter from Nicolaides as “gently coercive,” saying it puts post-secondaries in a difficult position.

“I think universities would be concerned that if the government expects them to do something, if they don’t there could be funding implications,” Hardcastle said.

“I think the letter was meant to send a message. The letter wasn’t in and of itself binding, but of course the government can legislate so that universities can’t pass their own public-health rules.”

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The UCP government has taken a heavy handed approach since announcing its new restrictions, pushing municipalities and schools as well as post-secondaries to align their policies with those of the province. Education Minister Adriana Lagrange sent a similar letter to school boards late Tuesday saying schools won’t have the authority to enforce masking of students. And Premier Jason Kenney has mused his government could look to amend the Municipal Government Act if municipalities attempt to introduce their own COVID-19 measures.

Hardcastle said the province has previously pushed back against other entities implementing their own public-health policy, but that their objections are more forceful this time.

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“This is them saying, ‘We expect you to do this,’ or ‘You can’t do this,’” she said.

In a news release from the U of C Students’ Union Thursday, the student group called on administrators and the university’s board of governors to push back on the letter from Nicolaides.

“Students certainly do not feel safe without mandatory health measures,” said students’ union president Nicole Schmidt. “It was just over a month ago that students began the semester online and now the Minister and UCP government want to return, almost immediately, to pre-pandemic delivery.”

jherring@postmedia.com

Twitter: @jasonfherring

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