Vaccine mandate likely for teachers, school staff though implementation details undecided

·4 min read
B.C. Premier John Horgan said on Thursday that the province is ready and willing to work with the 60 individual school districts to implement a vaccine mandate. (Mike McArthur/CBC - image credit)
B.C. Premier John Horgan said on Thursday that the province is ready and willing to work with the 60 individual school districts to implement a vaccine mandate. (Mike McArthur/CBC - image credit)

All signs are pointing to a vaccine mandate for teachers and school staff in B.C., but the details of how and who should implement it are still in question.

The province's school trustees' association and the teachers' federation both say they support a vaccine mandate in order to protect students and school staff, but they want the provincial government to order it.

The province has said it is up to elected trustees and B.C.'s 60 school districts to come up with their own vaccine mandates for school staff.

Teri Mooring, president of the B.C. Teachers' Federation, noted that vaccination rates are lower in some parts of the province, like the Peace region in the north, so trustees there may face "a high level of pushback" about requiring teachers to be vaccinated as a condition of employment.

"We could have a situation where the parts of the province that need mandates the most would be the least likely to implement them,'' Mooring said, adding that a patchwork approach could affect any unvaccinated teachers working in multiple districts.

During a press conference Thursday, Premier John Horgan said vaccine mandates for workers in B.C.'s schools are a last resort and elected board trustees know what's needed for their communities rather than the province enforcing such decisions.

WATCH: Premier John Horgan speaks on vaccine mandate for schools

"We [have been] working with stakeholders in K-12 for some time to build trust and we need to make sure that provincial school districts are all having a say in how we proceed," Horgan said.

His remarks came after the province announced on Tuesday that vaccination will be required for the thousands of employees in B.C.'s public service and for visitors to many health-care settings, including long-term and assisted care.

Calls for vaccine mandates for school staff are growing as new modelling shows cases of COVID-19 are rising among children under the age of 12 as the fourth wave of the pandemic continues.

Mooring said the teachers' union sent its 45,000 members a letter Thursday night saying its leadership is planning to meet with the B.C. Public School Employers' Association and the Education Ministry to ensure that a provincial vaccine mandate would include a process to accommodate teachers and protect their rights through grievances if necessary.

According to B.C. School Trustees Association president Stephanie Higginson, school boards had hoped to have a vaccine mandate for school workers in place by September.

Now, she says, they just want it in place as fast as possible.

B.C. School Trustees Association
B.C. School Trustees Association

"The details of the how and the what are ... one of those tricky details we need to work out," Higginson said Friday on CBC's The Early Edition. "We need to find out how much support we have from the province ... and we need to make sure we can do it quickly."

Mooring, meanwhile, recommended that teachers and school staff get vaccinated because the union may not be able to help them unless they have a legitimate exemption, should the province require them to be vaccinated.

School trustees not medical experts

Mission school board chair Tracy Loffler said she's not sure school trustees should be making decisions regarding vaccine mandates.

"We're not doctors, we're not epidemiologists," she said.

"Boards are well equipped to make decisions regarding student achievement ... Should these people be making medical decisions?"

Loffler says the board has been "very deliberate" about following orders and guidance from public health officials and experts in the province, and is seeking more guidance about whether to implement a vaccine mandate for staff in the Mission district.

Mission is in the area of the Fraser Valley where new restrictions were recently announced after a surge in the number of people diagnosed with COVID-19 — particularly among those who are not vaccinated.

Meanwhile, an independent modelling group analyzing the pandemic in B.C. says cases among children have risen steeply in the Fraser Valley, Interior and Vancouver Island health authority regions, as they account for nearly half of the province's unvaccinated residents.

It predicts at least 20 per cent of those under 12 will be infected with the COVID-19 virus within two years.

On Thursday, Horgan said he was advised by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry that Health Canada will soon be reviewing plans to immunize kids aged five to 11 and officials are working on logistics of delivering those vaccines once it's been approved.

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