School District No. 57 (SD57) held a special public meeting to appoint Chief Election Officers for the upcoming by-election following the resignation of two trustees, but the issue of vaccine mandates for school staff remains on the table.
The board instead appointed secretary-treasurer Darlene Patterson as Chief Election Officer and Sharon Cairns as deputy chief election officer.
Former board chair Trent Derrick and vice-chair Shuirose Valimohamed announced their resignations on Sept. 13 after reflecting on a ministerial special advisor’s report which found systemic anti-Indigenous racism within the district.
SD57 is now working with the ministry to implement the 45 recommendations outlined within the report.
Trustee Tim Bennett questioned whether the secretary-treasurer would be able to take on yet another role out of necessity.
“We are working with a number of people to get this done,” said Patterson. “As a district we have an advisor who is helping us with local government rules and he is going to be advising us moving forward.”
The district was required to appoint election officers within 30 days of the trustees’ resignations.
“The fact that we are having to do this currently is not ideal for anyone at least of all the employees and students of this district,” said Prince George District Teacher’s Association President Joanne Hapke at the beginning of the meeting.
She said Derrick and Valimohamed’s voices will be difficult to replace.
“These voices were important to this district. One is a First Nations leader and the other is a person of colour. These trustees brought a lens to this board that will be hard to duplicate. In fact, their reasons for resigning should give anyone from their respective communities pause to consider joining this district at this time, yet we need people from BIPOC communities to be at the table as we do the necessary work to move this district forward and address the systemic racism that is prevalent.”
Hapke noted that along with the by-election the trustees will also have to confront their decision in regard to mandatory vaccinations for all who work in the K-12 setting.
On Oct. 7 Premier John Horgan announced that implementing vaccine mandates will be decided independently by B.C.’s 60 school boards.
B.C. Teachers’ Association president Teri Mooring has stated the teachers' union supports a provincial mandatory vaccination and that it should not be left up to individual school boards.
SD57 Board Chair Sharel Warrington, who took over the position after Derrick’s resignation, said previously that no decision will be made until the board has had time to discuss the guidelines and recommendations from a newly formed provincial advisory committee.
“You are not in an enviable position. We are surrounded by communities with low vaccination rates and anger at the idea of a vaccine mandate. My belief is that the northern trustees will not all be on the same page in this process if it is not a provincial mandate by the provincial health office,” said Hapke.
“How do you make a decision that keeps your workforce healthy and safe knowing you are engaging an angry vocal group of people. Once again no easy answers for you to make.”
The board is reserving its decision until the committee has a framework in place to show how school boards can enforce mandatory vaccinations and deal with school staff who refuse to get vaccinated as well as deal with privacy concerns.
Meanwhile, the nomination period for the by-election will begin on November 10.
Patterson explained district is still in the process of setting possible by-election dates with the ministry but is hoping for January 15, 2022 so the byelection can fall on a Saturday post-Christmas break.
- with files from Ted Clarke, Prince George Citizen