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Local teachers’ union hoping for provincewide COVID-19 vaccine mandate

The Kamloops-Thompson Teachers’ Association would prefer a B.C.-wide mandate, as opposed to a patchwork of school districts with different rules. The BC Teachers’ Federation also supports a vaccine mandate for school staff

The School District 73 board will not meet again until Oct. 25, when it will likely discuss the idea of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for staff in SD73 schools — a matter recently put upon school districts across the province by the provincial government.

On, Oct. 7, Premier John Horgan said it is up to trustees to inform themselves to make such a decision and that the provincial government is not the teachers' employer in this situation, so it is up to each school board to decide whether to impose a mandate.

Until the SD73 board meets, board members and staff will be work behind the scenes to prepare for a possible decision, according to SD73 board chair Rhonda Kershaw.

Kershaw voiced concern about how the province is going about implementing a mandate, noting that throughout the pandemic, SD73 has followed public health guidance in lockstep.

Now, however, the province's 60 school districts are being asked to make that decision on their own, leading to concerns regarding piecemeal implementation.

Kershaw told KTW she is worried about potential staffing issues, with teachers or other staff moving from one district to another, based on whether a vaccination mandate exists.

That's something the Kamloops-Thompson Teachers' Association — the BC Teachers’ Federation local association — is also concerned about, that B.C. will become a patchwork of districts with different rules.

"The thing is, you have to have a stance. We agree with the vaccine mandate; however, we just wish the province would implement it provincewide, instead of leaving it up to school districts to decide," KTTA president Laurel Macpherson said.

Macpherson's comments reflect those of Teri Mooring, the president of the BC Teachers' Federation, who said deciding on mandates district-by-district is "the wrong approach."

Previously, the BCTF said it would not oppose vaccine mandates for Kindergarten to Grade 12 workers. It now has stated it supports the idea.

"This is about keeping everyone safe — you, your family, your co-workers and your students. We all need to do everything we can to protect each other. Please get vaccinated," reads an Oct. 7 letter from the union to BCTF members.

Macpherson said the KTTA would never ask its members whether they are vaccinated, but it has queried teachers on their support of a vaccine mandate and found that it mirrors provincial vaccination rates, which, as of Oct. 9, were at 88.6 per cent for single doses and 82 per cent for two doses among those age 12 and older. Children under the age of 12 can not yet receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

As to whether she thinks the school district will impose a vaccine mandate, Macpherson said there has been no indication one way or the other so far.

But it is her hope that a mandate comes to SD73.

"None of this has been easy. It's been a very difficult and challenging pandemic and nobody is looking forward to getting out of it more than teachers, I think," Macpherson said.

Kershaw said in the interim, schools remain safe places for students, with mask mandates, mandatory daily health checks and other measures in place to prevent transmission.