‘We’d like to see this in place everywhere’: Calls grow for vaccine mandate for teachers as Omicron drives surge in cases


At least one school district in the province has put a vaccine mandate in place for teachers as the Omicron variant continues to drive a surge in COVID-19 cases across the province.

The Delta School District in Metro Vancouver has implemented a proof of vaccination requirement for all of its employees. District staff will have six weeks beginning Monday to disclose their vaccination status. Those that are unvaccinated or don’t provide proof of vaccination will have to undergo regular rapid testing or take an unpaid leave of absence.

“We continue to hear from public health of the need for unvaccinated people to get immunized as soon as possible as vaccines reduce people’s risk of severe illness,” said Val Windsor, the district’s board chair. “We feel very strongly about protecting our students and staff. We believe anything we can do to reduce their risk of getting COVID, lessen the severity of their symptoms or reduce their time away from work or school is worth doing.”

In a statement, the school board says the six weeks will allow unvaccinated or partially vaccinated teachers and staff to get vaccinated. It will also allow the district time to set a process to collect vaccination information and to develop a rapid testing program.

There is currently no provincial vaccination mandate for teachers, despite calls from the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF).

“Vaccine mandates ought to be provincial, ought to be declared by government and, or the provincial health office, and they ought to be the same across the entire province,” said Teri Mooring, president of the BCTF. “So, in order to accomplish this, we have reached two agreements with the employer association and government, but overall we’d like to see this in place everywhere.”

READ MORE: B.C. students return to the classroom amid Omicron-fuelled fifth wave

In an emailed statement to CHEK News, the Ministry of Education said vaccines are the most important tool in keeping students and staff safe during the pandemic and it strongly encourages people to get vaccinated.

However, when it comes to a vaccine mandate for teachers, the ministry said, “As employers, each school district is responsible for making a decision on a vaccination policy for its employees.
Boards of education are following the guidelines we developed with our education partners and are balancing all of the elements to make sure their schools are safe while still delivering education and in-class learning.”

Mooring said she expects more school districts to follow in the footsteps of the Delta School District and create their own mandates.

“What we’re hoping for is that some of those districts are ones in areas of the province where vaccination rates are quite low,” she added.

When it comes to south Vancouver Island, both the Greater Victoria and Saanich school districts don’t have any vaccination mandates in place. The Sooke School District, on the other hand, has made vaccination a requirement for new hires.

“We see the value, as a board, of everyone being vaccinated,” said Ravi Parmar, chair of the Sooke school district’s board of education. “The reason we went with the new hire [rule] is it was a very quick, easy step for us to take, didn’t [present] many issues as it related to hiring…. On the challenge of [mandating] current, existing employees — that’s where it creates a bit of a labour shortage. Because if some employees are unable to work, or do not want to do regular testing, we could have a lack of bus drivers that could shut down our transportation department.”

A vaccine mandate for all staff, however, is still on the table, he added. The board has directed the superintendent to come up with a plan to implement a vaccine mandate for all employees, in case the board decides to go in that direction.

“We’ll continue to monitor and I think its fair to say for our board, we’re not afraid to implement a vaccine mandate,” Parmar said. “So if it’s in the best interest of our community, we will do it.”

In the meantime, Parmar said they will be keeping a close eye on the Delta School District as it implements its proof of vaccination requirements.

COVID-19 exposures in Island schools

It’s been four days since students returned to school and the Island has already reportedly had dozens of COVID-19 cases in its classrooms, according to a crowd-sourced case tracker.

As of Thursday afternoon, there were a total of 31 self-reported COVID-19 exposure notices on the B.C. School Covid Tracker list since school resumed on Monday. Most of the confirmed cases were discovered through rapid test.

Island Health is no longer listing school exposure notifications on its website because of Omicron’s higher community transmission levels, shorter incubation period and the increased use of rapid tests. New school protocols from the province say, as a result, it’s no longer effective to minimize the spread of COVID-19 for public health to do contact tracing and contact notification.

Instead, the province will notify families about school exposures when attendance drops below normal rates — and what that means depends mainly on the size of the school.

READ MORE: B.C. will move ahead with in-person classes for K-12 students on Monday

The general rule is if school attendance is 10 per cent below what it is usually is in previous years, then a notification will go out. The public will also be notified if there are fewer than 75 per cent of students in a grade in attendance.

“So that’s really cold comfort, I’m sure, for families and for educational workers because it means that a bunch of people are sick and now we’re telling you that there’s a problem,” said Mooring.

If a school has a smaller student population, that percentage can be more easily skewed. In those cases, the province says schools should contact public health if they determine an “abnormal number of students are away due to illness over 2-3 days.”

Jasmine BalaJasmine Bala

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