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New Westminster parents push school board to reconsider vaccine mandate

Parents say having young children in classrooms with potentially unvaccinated adults puts kids in a 'really dangerous position'
Classroom with young children COVID
If young children can be required to wear masks at school, the adults around them can be required to be vaccinated. That's part of the message from a group of parents who want the New West school board to implement a vaccine mandate for staff.

A group of New Westminster parents is petitioning the school board to reverse its stance on a vaccine mandate for staff.

Parents Ali Elman and Stacey Cheverie are the driving forces behind a letter sent to School District 40 trustees on Monday, Nov. 15.

“We are troubled with the province’s failure to make a province-wide mandate. However, with the province egregiously pushing that decision onto the school boards, we were hopeful this board would exercise its ability to protect the school community by instituting the strongest possible measures available: a vaccine mandate,” reads the letter, which has 37 signatories.

After the school board announced on Oct. 27 that it wouldn’t implement a vaccine mandate, Elman got talking with other moms who shared her disappointment. That decision, she said, just didn’t seem in sync with other public health measures.

“When they say, in public spaces people have to produce proof of vaccination, it seems like, why is the school exempt from that?” she asked. “You would think that children would be considered a vulnerable population because they’re not vaccinated and they have no option for vaccination.”

Cheverie said it’s a matter of following the science.

“There’s irrefutable proof that, around the world, vaccines work in stemming the spread of (COVID-19),” she said.

Elman has two children in the New Westminster district: a fully vaccinated Grade 8 student and a Grade 4 student who’s still too young to get the shot. With the vaccine for the five-to-11 age group still potentially weeks away, Elman said, it’s a vulnerable feeling to have an unprotected child in school.

Cheverie agrees.

“I have a six-year-old and an eight-year-old. They’re in school every day,” she said. “I think it’s putting our children in a really dangerous position.”

To not know whether their children may be in regular contact with an unvaccinated adult? For both women, that’s just not acceptable.

“The unvaccinated are piggybacking on the firewall that we’ve built around the unvaccinated children and the more vulnerable population,” Elman said. “It feels unfair.”

Cheverie agreed, noting the children are doing their part by wearing masks at school every day.

“My six-year-old could be sitting in class having an unvaccinated adult around him all day. It very much feels like they’re freeriding off the vaccinated and freeriding off our children,” she said.

While the parents heard trustee concerns about the potential for employees losing their jobs over a vaccine mandate, Elman said that’s not their desired outcome.

“We don’t want people to lose their jobs. We want people to get vaccinated and continue with their jobs,” she said.

And, Cheverie said, most New West parents would be happy to work alongside the schools “to accommodate whatever needs to happen so we can keep our kids safe and away from unvaccinated staff members.”

Elman pointed out it’s not just about protecting her own children; it’s about protecting the currently unvaccinated adults around them, too.

“I don’t want my child who’s not vaccinated to inadvertently expose that person and have that person in ICU. It’s both ways,” she said. “We don’t want any more people in the hospital, and we don’t want it stemming from the school system.”

The parents’ letter has so far just been shared by word of mouth, to friends and friends-of-friends. But Cheverie said they’re hoping to spread it more widely so that other parents who feel the same way can join their push to the school board.

You can read the whole letter here.

If you want more information about the petition, you can contact Stacey Cheverie at staceyrsmith@gmail.com or Ali Elman at alidionnes@gmail.com.