SD 51 officials carefully weighing options around vaccine mandate

Ministry guidelines say unvaccinated people are much more likely to contract and die from COVID-19

Boundary school board and district officials are reviewing policy guidelines as they consider a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for teaching staff and support workers at School District 51 (SD 51).

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In separate emails to The Gazette, School board chair Rose Zitko and Superintendent Anna Lautard wrote Monday, Nov. 2, and Tuesday, Nov. 3, that they would meet later in the week “to determine how best to proceed in School District 51.”

Set by the Ministry of Education, the guidelines lay out a five-step process open to SD 51 and 59 other school boards across the province, plus independent school authorities, each with the option of putting forward their own mandates.

To begin with, a school board or authority should know roughly how many staff are unvaccinated. The guidelines suggest here that boards either gauge publicly available vaccination rates among regional adults or ask for “voluntary self-disclosure” by unvaccinated staff, or a combination of both.

All of this information should be guarded according to the Freedom of Information Act, the Protection of Privacy Act and the Personal Information Protection Act.

The guidelines further recommend boards shore up any vaccination policy with legal advice on the one hand, while consulting local health authorities, on the other. Boards and authorities could decide to pursue a mandate after reaching out to employee groups and First Nations and after some community engagement.

The last step would be to implement a mandate, which should call for a “consistent process or tool for assessing proof of vaccination status data.”

The ministry in its preamble stressed that, “a co-ordinated approach to health and safety guideline and measures across the (K-12) sector” had been essential to providing classroom learning earlier in the pandemic. Pointing out that vaccines used in B.C. are “highly effective against COVID-19,” the preamble goes on to highlight that unvaccinated people are nine times more likely to contract COVID-19 and 40 times more likely to be hospitalized or die from the disease than people who are vaccinated.

A recent study by the BC Centre for Disease Control (BC CDC) shows that infections spiked in unvaccinated five-11 year-olds after the start of 2021-22 school year, especially in regions with lower vaccination rates. According to the Interior Health Authority (IH), there were an untold number of confirmed cases at Beaverdell Elementary and Rock Creek’s West Boundary Elementary over the second half of September.

Both schools lie squarely in the Kettle Valley local health area, where vaccination rates have consistently lagged behind the rest of the province as a whole, according to the BC CDC.

Asked for comment earlier this week, Norm Sabourin, head of the Boundary District Teachers’ Association, said the union had neither endorsed nor opposed a vaccine mandate. The BC Teachers’ Federation has consistently insisted that any such mandate would have to be province-wide to have any meaningful effect.

There have been no suspected COVID-19 exposures at SD 51 schools in the last two weeks, according to IH’s website.

There have been no changes either to the authority’s reporting or contact tracing measures, an IH spokesperson told The Gazette last week.



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