Teachers and other staff at schools in Delta, B.C., will soon have to either be vaccinated for COVID-19, undergo regular rapid testing or stop getting paid, the school district says.
In a statement, the Delta school district said beginning Monday, staff will be given six weeks to disclose their vaccination status. Those who are unvaccinated, the district said, will have to be regularly tested or take an unpaid leave of absence.
"Employees have to provide us with proof that they have been double vaccinated. Long and short of it," board chair Val Windsor said in an interview.
"Public health officials — Dr. Bonnie [Henry] and others — continue to emphasize the importance of people getting vaccinated … to risk reduce the risks of COVID-19 transmission to both schools and communities.
"It's all about student and staff safety."
The decision was announced during a virtual board meeting Tuesday, according to the district's statement.
The declaration process has not yet been finalized, but the district said it would reflect guidelines for vaccination policies, meet privacy obligations and consider input from Indigenous, employee, parent and community representatives.
Teachers' union welcomes move
According to B.C. Teachers Federation President Teri Mooring, Delta is the first school district to institute such a mandate.
She's hoping others follow suit.
"What we're seeing in other sectors is that vaccine mandates really do work," Mooring said. "What we're hoping is that will have a bit of effect on families also in terms of ensuring their children are vaccinated and child vaccination rates in B.C. are a particular concern of ours."
Mooring says 95 per cent of teachers are already vaccinated but that rate isn't uniform across the province.
The discolure mandate is a welcome step, Mooring said, but other safety measures in classes are still lacking.
She says teachers want to see provision of N95 masks to teachers who want them and improvements to ventilation systems in schools.
Other districts, province backed down
Vaccine mandates for school staff were widely discussed during the fall but school districts — and the province — ultimately cooled to the idea.
New Westminster, Surrey and Vancouver's school boards all said they weighed the idea but pointed to already high community vaccination rates, staff privacy concerns and the potential for staff losses as a result of the mandate.
The provincial education ministry has released guidelines to help school boards with vaccination policies but is leaving any final decisions up to the respective school boards.
Speaking Thursday on CBC's The Early Edition, Windsor said while she would have preferred a provincial mandate, her district will do what it can to keep its schools safe, including footing the bill for the rapid tests required for unvaccinated staff.
She also hopes the district does not become a focal point for anti-vaccine protesters.
"Let's hope that people who are anti- will keep their comments to themselves and not harass our schools," she said. "We're hoping that common sense will prevail."
In B.C., vaccines are currently mandated for health-care workers, public service employees and supervisors of youth activities, including sports coaches.