All signs point to a vaccination mandate for teachers and school staff in BC, but the details of how and who to implement it are still in doubt.
The province’s school administrators ‘association and the teachers’ union both say they support a vaccination mandate to protect pupils and school staff, but they want the provincial government to order it.
The province has said it is up to elected officials and BC’s 60 school districts to come up with their own vaccine mandates for school staff.
Teri Mooring, president of the BC Teachers’ Federation, noted that vaccination rates are lower in some parts of the province, as is the peace region in the north, allowing shop stewards to be exposed to “a high level of withdrawal” that teachers should be vaccinated as employment conditions.
“We could have a situation where the parts of the province that need mandates the most would be least likely to implement them,” Mooring said, adding that a patchwork approach could affect all unvaccinated teachers working in multiple districts.
During a news conference Thursday, Prime Minister John Horgan said vaccine mandates for workers in BC’s schools are a last resort, and elected board administrators know what is needed for their communities rather than the province enforcing such decisions.
SE: Premier John Horgan talks about vaccine mandate for schools
“We [have been] working with stakeholders in K-12 for some time to build trust, and we need to ensure that provincial school districts all have an impact on how we proceed, ”Horgan said.
His remarks came after the province on Tuesday announced that vaccination will be required for the thousands of employees of BC’s public service and for visitors to many health care facilities, including long-term and assisted care.
Calls for vaccination mandates for school staff are growing as new models show that cases of COVID-19 are rising among children under 12 as the fourth wave of the pandemic continues.
Mooring said the teachers ‘union sent a letter to its 45,000 members Thursday night, saying its management plans to meet with the BC Public School Employers’ Association and the Department of Education to ensure a provincial vaccine mandate will include a process to accommodate teachers and protect their rights if necessary.
According to BC School Trustees Association chairman Stephanie Higginson, school boards had hoped to get a vaccination mandate for school workers in place in September.
Now, she says, they just want it in place as soon as possible.
“The details of how and what is … one of the difficult details we need to find 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 be vaccinated because the union may not be able to help them unless they have a legitimate exemption if the province requires them to be vaccinated.
School administrators are not medical experts
Mission School Board Chairman Tracy Loffler said she is not sure school administrators should make decisions regarding vaccine mandates.
“We are not doctors, we are not epidemiologists,” she said.
“Boards are well equipped to make decisions about student performance … Should these people make medical decisions?”
Loffler says the board has been “very conscious” of following orders and guidance from public health officials and provincial experts and is seeking more guidance on whether to implement a mission district vaccination mandate.
Mission is in the area of the Fraser Valley, where new restrictions were recently announced following an increase in the number of people diagnosed with COVID-19 — especially among those not vaccinated.
Meanwhile, an independent modeling team analyzing the BC pandemic says child cases have risen sharply in the Fraser Valley, Interior and Vancouver Island health authorities’ regions, accounting for nearly half of the province’s unvaccinated residents.
It predicts that at least 20 percent of those under the age of 12 will be infected with the COVID-19 virus within two years.
On Thursday, Horgan said he was informed by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry that Health Canada will soon review plans to immunize children aged five to 11 years, and officials are working on logistics to deliver these vaccines once it has been approved.