Starting on Monday, B.C. students from Kindergarten to Grade 3 will need to mask up when they head to school as the province expands its mask mandate to everyone in the school system.
But with the battle over masking now in the rearview mirror, pressure is mounting on the next potential dispute concerning COVID-19 safety in the classroom: mandatory vaccination for staff.
On Friday, the New Westminster school district voted to seek legal advice on the possibility of a mandate, with a report on the idea expected next Tuesday.
Six B.C. school district parent advisory councils, including Vancouver, Surrey and Burnaby, have also signed a letter to the provincial government calling for mandatory vaccination for teachers and staff.
“If we ask for it as well, and we show the fact that we support it as well as parents, perhaps that will give the indication to the minister of health to call on the teachers to have mandated vaccines,” Surrey District Parent Advisory Council President Rina Diaz said.
Mike McCullough, an advocate with the BC Safe Schools coalition, would like to see the mandate go even further.
“I think anybody who’s eligible should be mandated to vaccines,” he said. “Not only for staff but for eligible children as well.”
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The BC Teachers’ Federation has maintained that it would not oppose a vaccine mandate for members, though said any such requirement would need to protect privacy and offer accommodations for staff who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons.
Asked about the idea Friday, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry appeared to suggest that if a mandate was imposed, it wouldn’t come in the form of an order from her office.
“My responsibility under public health orders is to look at those highest risk environments that are in the health system. So that’s what I am focusing on from public health orders,” she said, adding that she was supportive of employers having their own requirements in risky settings.
“It is an employer-employee relationship in many other settings, and we are seeing increasingly that employers are requiring vaccination in many different settings and school settings are no different.”
It’s not clear exactly how many teachers are vaccinated, but the union says a strong majority of staff have been immunized.
At present, only students aged 12 and up are eligible to be vaccinated, however, Pfizer has submitted trial data on vaccine safety in kids aged five to 11 to Health Canada.