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Greater Victoria School District pondering pros, cons of staff vaccine mandate

Data suggests vast majority of school staff already vaccinated
The Greater Victoria School District is one of dozens of districts in B.C. debating whether to implement a staff vaccine mandate. (Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward)

The Greater Victoria School District board is waiting for more information before deciding whether a vaccine mandate for staff is the best path forward.

Following guidelines released by the provincial government on Friday, SD61 is starting by gathering data on vaccination rates in staff, privacy concerns and what impact a mandate could have on employee retention.

During Monday’s board meeting (Oct. 25), trustees were told staff vaccination rates are estimated at between 92 and 97 per cent, according to chair Ann Whiteaker. A survey from the B.C. Teacher’s Federation provides a similar estimate of 94 per cent.

Whiteaker said the numbers brings two questions to mind: how much of an impact would a mandate have on students’ overall safety if vaccination rates are already so high? And, would a mandate convince those unvaccinated to do so or would it push them to quit?

READ ALSO: BCTF survey finds 94% of teachers fully vaccinated

The latter is a real concern, Whiteaker said, pointing to other industries and institutions that have become short-staffed following mandates. The board will have to weigh the possible impact of lost staff on students against the risk of allowing staff to remain unvaccinated.

“It’s really important to us to ensure our students have the best supports possible,” Whiteaker said.

Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association (GVTA) president Winona Waldron raised similar questions and expressed that there may be more effective ways to protect students.

She pointed out the vast majority of COVID-19 cases in the district are coming from elementary schools, where students are too young to be vaccinated yet. Of the 41 exposures or clusters reported publicly by Island Health from the start of the school year through Oct. 26, elementary schools accounted for 32 of them.

One solution, Waldron said, would be to ensure high vaccine uptake by students aged five and up when the option becomes available.

READ ALSO: COVID-19 vaccine registration open for kids aged 5-11, say B.C. health officials

Another would be re-introducing hybrid schooling options, where families who want to and are able to keep their kids home can switch to online learning.

“It would lower density in the schools and end up benefiting everyone,” Waldron said.

As far as teachers’ concerns, Waldron is aware of a few who worry about the privacy implications of a mandate. “We need to see that those are sufficiently addressed,” she said.

While Waldron said there could be more effective approaches than a vaccine mandate, she said the GVTA won’t oppose a decision by the board to go that route.

Whiteaker said more information on the topic is expected to come forward at the next operations and planning committee meeting in November. The item will be discussed in-camera.

READ ALSO: Mandatory vaccination for B.C. school staff up to boards, says B.C. premier

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About the Author: Jane Skrypnek

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media after starting as a community reporter in Greater Victoria.
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