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Mandatory COVID vaccination for teachers left up to school districts

"We stand ready to work with elected school boards" ~ Premier John Horgan | Statements from south Vancouver Island School Boards: SD61, SD62, SD63 & SD79

Friday October 8, 2021 | LANGFORD, BC [Latest update: October 10 2021 | See Guidelines as released Oct 22, 2021] [Updates to school district comments, at November 5, 2021] [SD62 update at December 21, 2021]

by Mary P Brooke, Editor | Island Social Trends

There are 60 school districts in BC, and each one is now faced with the option to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for all their staff. That includes teachers, educational assistants, administration, custodial, bus drivers and others).

In livestreamed press sessions, that was announced earlier this week by Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry earlier this week, and defended by Premier John Horgan yesterday.

horgan, october 7 2021
Premier John Horgan says BC school districts are responsible to decide about mandatory COVID vaccination [October 7, 2021].

By contrast to the BC civil service being advised of a mandatory vaccination requirement — to be done by over 30,000 employees by November 22, 2021, the employer-employee relationship between school boards and their employees is where the responsibility lies for school districts.

“We stand ready to work with elected school boards” who “work tirelessly”, said Premier Horgan yesterday.

Premier said yesterday that school boards “have a responsibility to their employees, first and foremost”. In the broader context, that may come as a stark awakening to students and parents/caregivers who are presumably the primary served audience served by Boards of Education in BC.

The BC Liberal opposition interim leader Shirley Bond told media yesterday that the decision about a vaccine mandate for teacher should not be downloaded to school boards. But evidently, that’s the only way it can be done (given the employer-employee relationship that is the responsibility of elected school trustees).

Vaccination advisory committee available to boards:

Horgan pointedly said that trustees are elected to do this work. In response to one trustee in the lower mainland who reportedly said she was no expert in public health, Horgan said there’s plenty of public health information out there by which to make an informed decision.

There is a public health advisory committee working with BC education sectors partners, evidently preparing to provide information and guidance to school districts on how trustees might make their board-level decision about the mandatory COVID vaccination for staff.

And yesterday the Premier said that Dr Bonnie Henry and her team are available to answer any questions.

bc, school districts, map
The BC school districts on south Vancouver Island are SD61, SD62, SD63, and SD79. [BC Ministry of Education map]

Vancouver Island school districts:

Yesterday Island Social Trends sought comments on the decision-making about mandatory COVID vaccination being left to school districts. These are the responses from school districts in the south Vancouver Island region so far:

ann whiteaker, sd61
SD61 Chair Ann Whiteaker [SD61]
  • SD61 (Greater Victoria | Chair Ann Whiteaker):

“The Ministry has informed us that an advisory committee with partners in the sector has convened to develop common principles, standards and guidelines to support Boards of Education with their decision-making regarding the potential implementation of vaccine mandates.

At this time, we are waiting for these details. Beyond that, we have not yet had the opportunity to discuss mandatory vaccinations as a Board.

If our Board chooses to explore a mandatory vaccination policy, we would then work closely with BCPSEA and our partner groups to come to a common understanding prior to any implementation.

Vaccinations are the best layer of protection when it comes to keeping our schools and communities safe. We continue to encourage all of our staff members to get vaccinated, if they haven’t already, to best protect our learning community.”

[No SD61 update yet]

SD62, Ravi Parmar
SD62 Board Chair Ravi Parmar at the June 9, 2020 SD62 Resource Committee Meeting.
  • SD62 (Sooke/westshore | Chair Ravi Parmar):

“The government has put together an advisory committee with partners in the sector to develop common principals and guidelines for boards of education to use. Should the SD62 Board of Education choose to consider mandatory vaccination for SD62 staff, they will work closely with BCPSEA, our unions and local partners, as well as the government advisory committee.

As always we encourage staff to get vaccinated as we know that it is a critical step to providing safe environments in our school communities.”

Update at Nov 5: SD62 – At the last Board Meeting, the Board of Education considered the matter in-camera and then reported out publicly that they would seek additional information to assist in their decision making. As a result of that, we are currently gathering survey data from our employees regarding vaccination status. In addition, we are consulting with stakeholders (bargaining units, excluded staff, parents [through our district parent advisory council]), the MHO, students and Indigenous Rights Holders. We are in the process of gathering all of that information to bring back to the board for their deliberations.

Update at Dec 21: SD62 – At their December 17, 2021 Special Board Meeting (held in-camera), a decision was made by the board to mandate COVID vaccination for all new employees; current employees are not mandated but are still encouraged.

  • SD63 (Saanich | Chair Tim Dunford):
Tim Dunford, SD63
Saanich School Board (SD63) Chair Tim Dunford

“This issue has just recently arisen and our Board, as the employer, will take the necessary time for appropriate review, including considering the health and safety of staff and students along with questions of contractual obligations, human rights, accommodation and legal analysis.

I’m confident that the Saanich Board will consider mandatory vaccines for staff in this context, and in so doing will also rely on the resources and guidance of the Education Advisory Committee and BCPSEA to ensure consistency and integrity of decision-making in the matter.”

Update at Nov 5: SD63 – Our Board is currently in the process of deliberating on this issue as well as waiting for further information from the Employers’ Association and legal counsel.

  • SD79 (Cowichan Valley | Chair Candace Spilsbury):
candace spilsbury, sd79
Candace Spilsbury, Chair, Cowichan Valley School Board (SD79)

“Our Board will make the decision on the staff vaccine mandate following a careful, in-depth review of all relevant information. The Ministry of Education has convened a provincial committee of partners including the BCTF and BCSTA to provide guidelines; the BCPSEA is working to determine and share legal advice. The Cowichan Valley Medical Health Officer will be consulted on implementation implications.

Our Board supports all citizens eligible to be vaccinated and we have continuously encouraged this practice.”

Update at Nov 5: SD79 – No update yet. The Board is still considering their options.

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