Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools is in the process of developing a procedure to mandate its employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
According to a press release, the school district held a special meeting Thursday, Jan. 20, when the school board decided on implementing “a vaccine mandate to help protect the health and safety of both students and staff,” with SD68 staff directed to create applicable guidelines.
The administrative procedure “will be consistent with the K-12 Sector Guidelines for Vaccination Policies and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association Template Operations Procedure,” said the press release, and related unions and joint health and safety committees, First Nations, community partners and parents will be consulted.
The procedures will ensure the district is able to accommodate people with medical exemptions, under both B.C.’s human rights code and Canada’s charter of rights of freedoms.
Charlene McKay, school board chairperson, said the decision was influenced by information from the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association.
“When those documents came in right before winter break, it’s a significant amount of information,” said McKay. “So we took a look, we went through everything … [had] several discussions, considered the internal surveys that we had done before and then decided to move forward with a procedure for vaccines.”
The district noted that it plans to implement a procedure and communication plan as soon as possible. Scott Saywell, district superintendent and CEO, is anticipated to have the procedure complete “within the next few days” and the implementation process takes six weeks, McKay said.
“Following that, we have to be looking at the vaccination status collection of our employees, which is something that we’ll do ensuring we maintain privacy,” said McKay. “A testing regime would begin following that six-week period. Anybody that’s unvaccinated would undergo testing twice a week … Essentially it’s looking like right after spring break, we’ll have everything in place and ready to go.”
Jeremy Inscho, Nanaimo-Ladysmith teachers’ union president, wondered about the value of the mandate. There is an agreement with the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and BCPSEA that if any district implements a vaccine mandate, teachers can get vaccinated and share their status, take unpaid leave or submit to regular testing at no cost, he said.
“Everyone who can get vaccinated, should,” said Inscho. “We know there are some people who can’t and that’s OK and we can work around that and there’s some people who won’t and it turns out that the work-around for those who can’t is the same for those who won’t, so I’m not sure that bringing a mandate will really encourage a lot more people … to get vaccinated.”
Jeff Virtanen, president of CUPE Local 606 education support workers’ union, said he’s happy there will be consultation with the school district.
“At the end of the day we don’t want anybody to get fired for not being vaccinated … Whether the unvaccinated have to go through testing, get remote work or whether they take a leave, that’s what I want to see,” said Virtanen. “I don’t want to see us stray to far from what seems to be working at this point, but as you know with Omicron, everything seems to be changing so fast.”
McKay said the district is prepared for backlash that may come from the decision.
“I think it’s important to really highlight the fact that this is just about our employees,” said McKay. “It doesn’t have any impacts on students. We firmly believe that everybody’s entitled to their opinion, but this is the next step that we believe we need to take.”