School District 27 trustees will take some time before making a “thoughtful” decision around the B.C. government’s vaccine mandate for teachers and staff.
Supt. Chris van der Mark said Tuesday there’s “a lot to consider” and praised the finance and facilities and transportation committee for proceeding cautiously and taking into account any implications for school employees.
“This has certainly ramped up some anxiety for our community,” he said. “We know the government has allowed districts to explore the issue of vaccine mandates. Our finance and facilities committee had a very thoughtful conversation … we’re not seeing any decision coming out of that so it should give people a little bit of ease.”
The decision to not take any action followed an intense committee discussion Oct. 12. Trustees at that meeting expressed frustration with the province, which had announced a vaccine mandate for government employees but stopped short of including the K-12 sector, leaving that decision in the hands of B.C.’s 60 school boards.
van der Mark told the Free Press last week that among the committee members there was a “unanimous disappointment in the decision being offloaded to school boards.”
“It was really clear that they would be thoughtful in their steps going forward,” he said.
van der Mark declined to comment last week ahead of the school board meeting Tuesday. However, in a briefing note to the committee Oct. 12, he said the board could face significant issues or ramifications in making such a decision. He also noted the board was not yet aware of the totality of the legal, contractual, or operational factors that exist.
“Since our workforce is a reflection of our community, we can assume a significant portion of our work force (in all roles) is resistant to a vaccination mandate,” he said in the note.
“It is troubling, at this stage that government would turn this critical, divisive, complex health issue over to varying and divergent boards of education, when provincial leadership is required.”
Two Bridge Lake parents, whose children attend Horse Lake elementary and Peter Skene Ogden Secondary respectively, spoke out against the vaccine mandate Tuesday. One of them, Piri de Vries, urged the district to tread carefully, saying the district could face liability issues if it went ahead with the vaccine mandate, which she deemed unconstitutional. She maintains she is not an anti-vaxxer, but is fighting for freedom of choice.
“I hope you inform yourself before making any decisions in this matter,” she said.
In a letter to parents last week, van der Mark said schools continue to face challenges and urged parents to be mindful of staff and teachers, noting the district is following the prescribed guidelines as best as it can.
He gave a shout-out Tuesday to support staff, teachers and administrators whom he said in the letter have been “working hard to manage this range of reaction and emotion they encounter in schools, while also having to manage their own levels of comfort or anxiety” when it comes to the use of masks in school and with regards to vaccinations and vaccine passports.
“It’s hard,” he said Tuesday. “It’s been a pretty good grind for folks.”