The Mission School Board has directed staff to start gathering data on COVID vaccination rates, exposures, cases, and in-school transmissions before deciding on a vaccine mandate for staff.
The BC Ministry of Education provided board members with the vaccination policy guidelines on Oct. 22, after weeks of consultation in an ad-hoc committee.
The school boards at every one of B.C.’s 60 school districts have been given the responsibility of ruling on a mandate based on their local circumstance.
“We’re not going to make a rushed decision,” said Randy Cairns, vice-chair of the Mission School Board. “These are early days, gathering data is the first step.”
The mandate guidelines state a board’s decision should prioritize health and safety, reduce impacts to in-person learning, and should have consistency in approach.
Administrators will need to intake a host of data for their assessment, seek out legal and medical advice about their policy, engage with consultations with different employee groups, unions and First Nations – then make a decision.
Fraser Health will be providing one data set today (Oct. 29) regarding total vaccination coverage within the Mission School District, according to Superintendent Angus Wilson. He said those numbers will be kept internal for now.
Wilson said the board’s decision regarding a mandate for the approximately 1,000 district employees should come within a week or two.
There was some contention between the BC Teachers’ Federation and the education ministry over the latter’s stated desire to leave it up to local boards. The former wanted provincial leadership and consistent policy.
In some school districts, board members are already expressing frustration with the process.
But Cairns said he has no problem making a decision, and agrees with the decision to leave it up to local representatives.
“The communities that elect school boards expect them to govern,” he said, adding they’re accountable for the health and safety of employees. “You can’t pick and choose your responsibilities.”
Cairns said the board is prepared for any community backlash regarding whatever their policy may be, and they’ve followed the advice of the provincial health officer throughout the pandemic.
He said there’s a certain segment of the community whose views on the vaccine are not based in science.
“It’s not much fun if you have to close a school. I’ve been on the board for awhile, people get pretty angry at you,” Cairns said. “You make decisions that are best for the school district as a whole.”
He stressed the board still needs to collect and analyze data. He said if it shows that very few teachers are unvaccinated, that will influence their decision.
Wilson described that decision as a “catch 22,” as school districts with a high vaccination rate have a reduced need for a mandate.
“The more you need it, the harder it is to do it,” he said.
Mission schools are already experiencing a significant staffing shortage related to COVID-19, Wilson said. He said teachers on call have been hard to come by, school exposures have left some having to self-isolate, and principals and administrators have been filling in the gaps.
Cairns said that a mandate policy is about health and safety first, and believes staffing will be an issue regardless.
He said fully vaccinated staff are not required to self isolate, and can continue to teach through school exposure.
“It’s not necessarily not all negative.”
Mission has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the Lower Mainland, with only 81 per cent of its eligible population having received the first dose.