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School District 54 puts off mandatory vaccine decision

Closed door discussions, a procedure usually reserved for personnel, legal or land matters, continue
The SD54 building in Smithers. (Trevor Hewitt photo)

School District 54 trustees have held off on deciding whether to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for its employees and teachers.

The matter drew a brief mention when the board met Nov. 23 with board chair Jennifer Williams saying the board was continuing to discuss things behind closed doors, a procedure usually reserved for personnel, legal or land matters.

Several revisions resulted in exemption provisions for teachers who volunteer their time as coaches or other activities, something the district found confusing, said school district superintendent Michael McDiarmid following the Nov. 23 meeting.

“If a teacher who coaches at an arena a couple of blocks away from the school and has to show proof of vaccination and then coaches in their own school’s gym, we could not see a difference. There is a community expectation of vaccination,” said McDiarmid. “That was our decision.”

In effect, teachers who do volunteer their time must then be vaccinated, he said.

As things stand now, McDiarmid said the bulk of the district’s teachers are vaccinated.

“There are a small percentage who are not but our vaccination rate is higher that the community vaccination rate,” he said.

McDiarmid said the issue of mandatory vaccinations is being discussed in camera under the advice of the provincial school trustees’ association because it is considered a personnel matter.

While the province has told its own employees to be vaccinated, it is leaving the decision up to individual school districts.

So far, school district representatives have met with officials from the Bulkley Valley Teachers’ Union and those from the Canadian Union of Public Employees. Collectively they represent close to 250 people employed by the district.

School district representatives have also met with Northern Health officials.

Williams said the board wanted to consider all of its options.

“We won’t be making a decision lightly or right away. We want to make sure that we have our toolbox full before any decision is made,” she said at the board meeting.

The board’s deferral of a decision on mandatory vaccination comes at a time when Northern Health statistics indicate Houston and area and the rural Smithers area have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the north with the exception of the northeast among adults and teens.

Northern B.C.’s high rate of COVID-19 cases has resulted in provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry urging northern school districts to mandate vaccinations.

So far no school district in the province has issued a mandatory vaccination policy.