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Richmond school board waits for direction on teacher vaccine mandate

The premier said school districts are responsible for their staff and have to have a say on how to proceed with any vaccine mandate.
Trustee Nixon
Sandra Nixon is chair of the Richmond Board of Education.

The Richmond Board of Education is waiting for provincial guidelines before tackling the concept of a vaccine mandate for its teachers.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccination has never been a condition of employment for school boards, explained Sandra Nixon, chair of the Richmond Board of Education, adding she’s been told it’s a “complex labour relations issue.”

However, the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and CUPE BC, which represents non-teaching staff in schools, have said they support a vaccine requirement but with accommodations.

Nixon said discussions are on-going with employee groups, but it would be “premature” to speculate when a possible mandate could be implemented before a provincial ad-hoc committee, which is creating common principles, standards and policy guidelines around vaccine mandates, gives its report.

The province has told 30,000 public sector employees that they have to be vaccinated by Nov. 22, but no such order has come from the provincial health officer for teachers.

In a bulletin, CUPE BC said any vaccine mandate must have “reasonable accommodations” for those who have “recognized human rights exemptions.”

Ian Hillman, president of the CUPE local 716, said his understanding is exemptions won’t be given just because people are anti-vaxxers, rather it would be for things like medical reasons.

When asked on Thursday about why the province isn’t mandating teachers to be vaccinated, Premier John Horgan said school districts, which have the authority and responsibility for their staff, need to have their say on how to proceed.

“We are not the employer in this case ... There is a responsibility for elected representatives, who have put their hand up and said 'I'd like to be on the school board,' to inform themselves about the best way to protect their employees and the children within their district,” Horgan said.

He added that mandates are a “last resort,” and the vast majority of eligible British Columbians – 88.4 per cent with the first dose – have already chosen to get vaccinated.

The ad-hoc advisory committee creating the guidelines includes representatives from BCTF, CUPE, the BC School Trustees Association, the First Nations Education Steering Committee, the BC Public School Employers Association, the Federation of Independent Schools Association, as well as school district leadership associations and the provincial health officer.

Meetings began on Oct. 5 and the ministry said they are trying to get the guidelines written “as soon as possible” but didn’t give a definitive timeline.

- with files from Castanet