The school district that covers Kelowna, B.C., says it will soon require all teachers and staff to provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19, following weeks of consultation culminating in a contentious public meeting Wednesday night.
Staff who do not or cannot provide proof of vaccination will have to undergo tests on a regular basis, said Moyra Baxter, chair of School District 23's board of education, adding that the process will likely take at least six weeks to implement.
The district joins several others in B.C. that have recently brought in similar requirements.
One-thousand people joined the public online school board meeting Wednesday evening, the maximum amount of people allowed on a Zoom call.
Of approximately 70 people who spoke at the meeting, only three spoke in favour of the proof-of-vaccine requirement, said Baxter.
"Finally, we had to shut down the public question and comment period because of the insanities that we started hearing ... I personally do not think it represents the majority of people in our school district," Baxter told CBC Daybreak South host Chris Walker.
The school board trustees' final vote was 5-2 in favour of implementing the proof-of-vaccine requirement.
Baxter, who voted in favour, said many employees have contacted her expressing their support since the meeting.
"I think the five trustees who voted for this believe that this is the right thing to do to try and put a further layer of safety in our schools for our students," said Baxter.
School District 23 includes the cities of Kelowna and West Kelowna as well as the district municipalities of Lake Country and Peachland.
The Central Okanagan region has a two-dose vaccine rate of 87 per cent.
Similar requirement in Peace River South
The Peace River South school district, which includes Dawson Creek, announced Tuesday it would be implementing a proof-of-vaccine requirement for all staff. The decision was made in a closed board meeting on Jan. 19.
If staff do not provide proof of vaccination they will have to undergo routine rapid testing, School District 59 said in a release. Staff who refuse to undergo rapid testing will be placed on a leave of absence without pay, it added.
"The health and safety of staff and students was at the forefront of this decision," board chair Chad Anderson and assistant superintendent Mike Readman said in the release.
None of the policies apply to students.
Individual district decision
The decision over whether school staff in British Columbia should require proof of vaccination is being left to individual districts.
Many districts, including those that cover Prince George, Surrey, Vancouver and Victoria, have opted against such policies, pointing to high community vaccination rates, staff privacy concerns and the potential for staff losses as a result of the requirement.
The Peace River South region covered by School District 59 has the lowest vaccine rate in the province with just 65 per cent of residents aged 12 and over having received two doses as of Jan. 25.
B.C. Teachers' Federation president Teri Mooring has said she encourages districts to adopt mandates, as well as other provisions such as the use of N95 masks for teachers who want them and improved classroom ventilation.
While the province isn't enforcing requirements or mandates for school staff, it does require teachers and support staff to report their vaccination status if it is requested by their employer.