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School District 57 decides against vaccine mandate for staff

School board announced it will not be requiring staff to disclose vaccination status

School District No. 57 (SD57) has announced it has chosen not to implement a vaccine mandate for staff.

The district says after careful thought and consideration of all data available regarding COVID-19 the Board of Education has decided not to implement a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

“The Board did not make this decision lightly. We have considered all information available to us from many sources including the Medical Health Officers from Northern Health, the Ministry of Education and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association.” said Sharel Warrington, SD57 Board Chair. 

In an afternoon press conference, Warrington said the board considered two main factors when making their decision which were health and safety and the adherence to COVID-19 protocols in the schools. 

“Serious consideration was given to many factors including the priority of the health and safety of students and staff in SD57 as well as the potentially significant impact on student learning," said Warrington. 

She explained the board considered the low rate of COVID-19 transmissions in district schools and tracked the number of exposures in the district. From Sept. until Nov. 15 there were approximately 13 schools that had exposures and those schools were primarily elementary schools and there have been no evidence of exposures in secondary schools during this period. 

Acting Superintendent Cindy Heitman noted that the school exposures were also limited to one classroom or one specific group of students. 

"We weighted the impact of a vaccine as a condition of employment against the impact it would have on the ability of the school district to continue to provide high-level services and supports for our students," said Warrington. 

"The Board of Education will not be seeking voluntary staff disclosure regarding their vaccine status.," continued Warrington. "We also looked at the ramifications of vaccine mandate on creating any significant disruption to the operation of our schools and so those were two very critical aspects of our decision." 

SD57 is currently experiencing a teacher shortage, especially among teachers-on-call, and Warrington noted this did impact the board's decision. 

"All districts across the north, and perhaps throughout the province, are experiencing recruitment and retention challenges for teachers for support staff, so yes that does influence our decision." 

SD57 was tasked with making this decision when, in October,  the provincial government announced it would leave it up to B.C.’s 60 school boards and independent school authorities to decide whether to develop COVID-19 vaccine mandates as a condition of employment for teachers and other school staff as a workplace heath and safety measure.

Premier John Horgan said vaccine mandates should be a last resort for workers in B.C. schools and that local school board trustees know better than the government what’s best for their communities.

SD57 is now the first school board in the north to come to a decision, and larger school boards in Vancouver and Surrey have also decided against vaccine mandates for their staff. 

"We took our time because we respect the fact the north is experiencing lower vaccination rates, and we know there are challenges in all of our districts in the north, that they'll need to face when it comes to this decision," said Warrington. 

"We are cognizant that we are taking the lead in the north and we know the needs in those communities so we will support them in their decisions." 

Warrington added that she understands there has been both support and opposition regarding the vaccine mandate decisions from parents. 

"We know there are parents who were very concerned that we might go with a mandate and we know there are those who are very concerned about the health and safety of children in the schools so our message is that we will make every effort to ensure the health and safety of all students and staff in our schools and we will pay very careful attention to any changes that might occur. " 

The board also reiterated their encouragement for everyone to get vaccinated if they are able to do so. 

"We strongly encourage and support vaccinations as we believe they are the best protection against serious illness. We will continue to monitor vaccination data provided by the Provincial Health Officer and the BC Centre for Disease Control."

 

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