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North Shore school boards seek advice on vaccine mandate

North Van, West Van school trustees have not decided whether COVID-19 vaccines will be mandatory for teachers, school staff
School boards in North and West Vancouver are seeking advice on vaccine mandates for teachers and staff before making decisions. file photo

North Shore school boards are asking for more information before deciding whether to make COVID vaccinations mandatory for teachers and staff.

On Tuesday, both North and West Vancouver school trustees indicated they’ll seek advice from a provincial advisory group looking into the issue as well as unions and public health officers before deciding on whether to put a vaccine mandate in place for staff.

The discussion this week comes after the province has already made vaccines mandatory for both health-care workers and many other public sector employees. The decision on whether to make vaccines mandatory for teachers and school staff, however, is being left up to local school boards.

George Tsiakos, chair of the North Vancouver Board of Education, said Tuesday the issue is “complicated and complex” and needs to be considered carefully.

Tsiakos said his takeaway from a meeting among Metro Vancouver school board chairs earlier this week is “this is not an easy thing.”

Tsiakos said while vaccines may prevent spread of COVID in school settings and limit the number of people required to self-isolate if they do get exposed to the virus, the value of a mandate could be limited in a setting considered low risk that already has high vaccination rates, such as the North Shore.

Tsiakos added if the board did decide on a vaccine mandate, it’s likely to recommend a staggered approach to putting that in place.

In response to a question from trustees, schools superintendent Mark Pearmain said he doesn’t know how many of the school district’s approximately 2,500 employees would be impacted by a vaccine mandate. “I can’t tell you how many are vaccinated or not,” he said.

“There are passionate and compelling arguments on both sides” of the vaccine mandate debate, he added.

Trustee Megan Higgins said it was important the parents know any vaccine mandate under consideration would apply to employees of the school district but not to students.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province’s medical health officer, has already said that mandatory vaccines for students are not in the cards.

Pearmain added so far there’s been no guidance from the province about whether mandatory vaccinations would also apply to parents who volunteer in the schools.

At the beginning of the North Vancouver public school board meeting on Tuesday, Tsiakos read out comments submitted by 10 parents, all opposing mandatory vaccination for staffs.

One letter writer stated a vaccine mandate amounted to a form of “bullying and coercion.”

All said they supported teachers and staff being able to choose whether to be vaccinated.

The North Vancouver school board hasn’t set a deadline for making a decision on the issue but said they would like to see a report on the issue as soon as practical.

Carolyn Broady, chair of the West Vancouver board of education, said that school district will also consider advice before making a decision.