Kids head back to school across the Boundary’s School District 51 Tuesday, Sept. 7. Photo: Laurie Tritschler

Kids head back to school across the Boundary’s School District 51 Tuesday, Sept. 7. Photo: Laurie Tritschler

Back-to-school guidelines could be safer, says Boundary teachers’ union

Union President Norm Sabourin highlighted ministry’s lack of a vaccine mandate

Boundary school teachers had hoped for tighter COVID-19 safety guidelines for the school year ahead, according to union president Norm Sabourin.

Superintendent Anna Lautard, head of School District 51 (SD 51), has pointed out that the guidelines are set by the Ministry of Education, adding that they reflect the most up to date recommendations by Public Health, a division of B.C.’s healthcare system that focuses on health and wellbeing from a population standpoint, according to its website.

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Sabourin, who heads the Boundary and District Teachers’ Association, said Tuesday, Aug. 31, “It appears that some of the measures are less than what we had in June.”

Released Aug. 24, the new guidelines do away with last year’s cohort model, which hived students off into small learning groups within their respective grades. Lunch hours will no longer be staggered and kids will no longer be asked to maintain two metres’ social distance when not seated.

Eligible students and staff don’t have to be vaccinated against COVID-19, which Sabourin acknowledged was not required last year. The new guidelines strongly promote the effectiveness of vaccines in preventing infection, especially in the case of worrisome variants of the virus, but go no further. SD 51 has meanwhile committed to sharing “evidence-based information” about COVID-19 vaccines which the district said would come from the BC Centre for Disease Control or ImmunizeBC, according to the district’s latest Communicable Disease Plan.

Sabourin said this wasn’t enough.

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“We are really worried about our kids and we would like to see all adults doing their part in making sure that we protect them. Meanwhile, the best available science tells us that the most effective way to do that is to be vaccinated en masse,” Sabourin said.

“The union is certainly not opposed to a vaccine mandate, but we would like to see exceptions for those people who are unable to be vaccinated for health reasons,” he continued.

Next, students in Kindergarten through Grade 3 aren’t required to wear face masks in school, which Sabourin again pointed out was not a requirement last year. The new guidelines strongly encourage youngsters to mask up, but stop short of a mandate.

“When it comes to masks, the union stands firm and I agree: All students should be masked,” he said.

Speaking to The Gazette Thursday, Sept. 2, Lautard said, “We are confident that district schools will be safe and inclusive when students come back this year.”

Staff and students in grades 4-12 are required to wear face masks, she said, crediting mask-wearing and proper handwashing with virtually eradicating cold and flu cases in 2020-21. Last year’s cohort model had been exceedingly tough on high school seniors, she added, explaining that while social distancing was out, district schools would be encouraging students to respect each other’s “personal space.”

Lautard preferred not to comment on the issue of a vaccine mandate, underlining that SD 51 was following education ministry guidelines.

“I’m Superintendent for all students and all families,” she said, adding, “We’re in a pandemic and it’s hard times. I think we’re stronger together.”



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