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B.C. premier pledges access to ‘expertise’ before school trustees decide on vaccine mandates

Click to play video: 'Province accused of downloading school COVID-19 vaccine decision' Province accused of downloading school COVID-19 vaccine decision
Critics accused the B.C. government, Thursday, of downloading a decision about COVID-19 mandates in schools. While the province has told more than 30,000 provincial employees to get vaccinated, the Premier says the government does not have the same power when it comes to school boards. Richard Zussman explains. – Oct 7, 2021

British Columbia will make any information necessary to schools boards to help trustees decide whether to introduce mandatory COVID-19 vaccines in their districts.

Premier John Horgan made the remark during a news conference on Thursday, amid concerns over allowing all 60 school districts to each make their own decision on mandates instead of the government imposing a province-wide rule.

Trustees must be included in how to proceed because they are elected and have the authority over their staff, he said.

“I’m very cognizant of the notion of 60 separate decisions here,” Horgan said. “But it’s good to see stakeholders’ … leadership saying that a mandate is the logical next step.”

Click to play video: 'Is it fair to put vaccine mandate issues on B.C. school district staff who don’t have health training?' Is it fair to put vaccine mandate issues on B.C. school district staff who don’t have health training?
Is it fair to put vaccine mandate issues on B.C. school district staff who don’t have health training? – Oct 7, 2021

The BC Teachers’ Federation and the Canadian Union of Public Employees — the two major unions representing workers in the school system — support vaccine mandates in schools.

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“I’m confident that school districts will be agreeable (as well),” Horgan said.

“Any trustee can access the expertise of (provincial health officer) Dr. (Bonnie) Henry and her team at the public health office. … I would suggest that they can educate themselves with a simple phone call to get the details and data that they need to make informed decisions.”

Click to play video: 'Why is B.C. leaving school districts to decide on vaccine mandates?' Why is B.C. leaving school districts to decide on vaccine mandates?
Why is B.C. leaving school districts to decide on vaccine mandates? – Oct 7, 2021

The province announced earlier this week the formation of a committee to give school districts guidance on a vaccine mandate.

Vaccines are already required for the B.C. public service, but not for the education system because of the employment structure.

“We are not the employer in this case,” Horgan said.

“There is a responsibility for elected representatives who put their hand up and said, ‘I’d like to be on the school board’ to inform themselves about the best way to protect their employees and the children within their district. And I don’t mean to be accusatory here, but there’s no shortage of information.”

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Click to play video: 'Opposition challenges NDP government over vaccination of teachers and staff in B.C. schools' Opposition challenges NDP government over vaccination of teachers and staff in B.C. schools
Opposition challenges NDP government over vaccination of teachers and staff in B.C. schools – Oct 6, 2021

 

Mission is one of the communities in B.C.’s eastern Fraser Valley under additional COVID-19 restrictions as of Sept. 28 amid a high number of cases and low immunization rates.

Tracy Loffler, chair of the Mission school board, said her district has not made any decisions yet, and that the province should not force trustees to make medical decisions.

“I am pro-vaccine. I am double vaccinated myself. And I believe anyone working with unvaccinated kids has a moral obligation to be vaccinated,” Loffler said. “But as an individual trustee, I am not comfortable making medical decisions of behalf of other people.”

Read more: COVID-19: Is mandatory vaccination for teachers the next front in the school safety battle?

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The B.C. Liberals raised concerns about a potential patchwork on vaccine mandates earlier this week during question period.

And during her weekly media availability, Liberal leader Shirley Bond said the province should be the one to decide on mandates.

“There should be a province-wide consideration of what should happen in schools. That is the province’s responsibility,” Bond said.

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