Sooke School District will now require all new hires to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Offers of employment with the district will now be conditional on being able to provide proof of vaccination or proof of exemption, the district announced Tuesday.
The ministry of education said Sooke School District is the first in B.C. to implement a vaccine mandate for staff, following the provincial government providing guidance on how to implement the requirements in October.
The school district said the mandate does not apply to the over 1,800 employees that are currently employed. It only applies to anyone who will be hired going forward.
Ravi Parmar, board chair, said the board has also directed the superintendent to plan for a vaccine mandate procedure if the situation with COVID-19 changes and warrants a mandate for all staff.
“The Board has been very clear in its support of everyone, who is eligible, getting vaccinated. We are unwavering in our support for public health and strongly encourage everyone in our community to get vaccinated,” Parmar said.
“While we are not implementing a vaccine mandate for current employees today, the Board will continue to monitor the situation and is prepared to take further steps if warranted.”
Parmar said the board chose to not mandate vaccines for existing staff based on advice they had received from BC Public School Employers’ Association and other advisors.
“One thing that we as a board we’re very mindful of is we’re not public healthcare experts,” Parmar said.
“We would have preferred if Dr. Henry and the provincial health office had made this decision, but we respect that they weren’t able to do so. And so based off of all of the information we had, we felt this was the responsible decision based off of the feedback and perspective shared to us by our partner groups, public health, and all those who reached out to us.”
When asked why the board was not implementing a mandate for all staff, Parmar said the board already has shortages of staff in some areas, so they don’t want to implement a mandate and not be able to provide adequate service in some areas.
“We’re already a shortage of bus drivers as an example and if we lost a couple more it would have a devastating impact on our service with students not being able to get to school.”
This story was updated to include comments from Ravi Parmar, and to reflect information provided by the ministry of education.