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Surrey education board needs time to review implications of potential vaccine mandate

This comes as the premier says the decision is up to trustees
Surrey teacher Shannon Akester gets vaccinated for COVID-19 at the North Surrey clinic on Wednesday, March 24. (submitted photo: Fraser Health)

While the premier said this week that mandatory vaccinations would be up to individual education boards, Surrey trustees are still in discussions on the matter.

In an emailed statement to the Now-Leader, Surrey Board of Education Chair Laurie Larsen said since these provincial announcements were just made earlier this week, trustees need “time to review the implications of a potential mandate and also work with our regional medical health officer and other partners.”

Larsen said that on Friday (Oct. 8), the board had a call to better understand the provincial direction, adding their decision will be guided by the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association, the government “and the best interests of our school communities.”

The board’s next meeting is Oct. 13, which is open to the public.

That same day, B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Teri Mooring sent a letter to members about a possible vaccine mandate for teachers in B.C.

READ ALSO: B.C. teachers urged to get vaccinated as union calls for provincial mandate, Oct. 9, 2021

Mooring said the BCTF discussed in August the issue of a vaccine mandate, and decided it would “not oppose a mandate for K-12 workers as long as privacy rights were protected and members who needed medical exemptions were accommodated.”

“Since then, much has changed on the topic of vaccine mandates,” she noted.

This week, ICBC, BC Hydro, TransLink and the federal government were among some of the employers to mandate vaccinations for workers.

“It has become clear to us that a COVID-19 vaccine mandate is likely to come to the public education system,” said Mooring, adding that to respond to this “rapidly shifting ground” the BCTF executive committee met the night prior to discuss.

She said the BCTF supports mandatory vaccines in the K-12 system for school staff and volunteers.

“This is about keeping everyone safe—you, your family, your coworkers, and your students. We all need to do everything we can to protect each other. Please get vaccinated.”

It was on Thursday (Oct. 7) that Premier John Horgan said vaccine mandates for workers in schools are a last resort and elected board trustees know what’s needed for their communities rather than the province enforcing such decisions.

READ ALSO: Mandatory vaccination for B.C. school staff up to boards, says B.C. premier, Oct. 8, 2021

“It’s good to see stakeholders, critical people like teachers, represented by the BC Teachers Federation (and) CUPE workers, the largest body of people in the K-12 system, their leadership saying that a mandate is the logical next step,” he said.

“I’m confident that school districts will be agreeable to that.”

Health officials are ready to ensure that all those who want to get a COVID-19 vaccine will get one, but the province isn’t 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.”

Surrey school-based staff were among the first in B.C.’s education system to be vaccinated after the region was hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic in the second and third waves.

READ ALSO: Surrey school staff to be vaccinated by April 1, March 22, 2021

– With files from The Canadian Press

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Lauren Collins

About the Author: Lauren Collins

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media's national team, after my journalism career took me across B.C. since I was 19 years old.
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