The Abbotsford board of education has decided against mandating COVID-19 vaccines for district staff.
The decision was made at an in-camera session on Tuesday night (Nov. 2) following the board’s monthly public meeting.
Board chair Stan Petersen said in a press release issued Wednesday night (Nov. 3) that there are “multiple layers” of protection in place in schools to prevent the spread of the virus, making them low-risk settings.
“Furthermore, our public health experts have confirmed that our schools are not a primary source of COVID-19 spread,” he said.
The board passed a motion at its previous public meeting – on Oct. 12 – to have staff review and report on the implications of a vaccine mandate.
Staff then met with Fraser Health’s medical health officer to gather health information, review school data and discuss the impacts of a vaccine mandate.
“Public health officials noted that a vaccine mandate for all K-12 staff would have a limited impact on transmission rates and potentially exacerbate inequities for some,” the press release states.
“They recommended that school districts use less invasive measures such as promoting vaccinations among eligible staff and students.”
A follow-up staff report presented at the public meeting on Tuesday indicated there have been 114 COVID-19 “exposure notifications” since the start of the school year in September.
Since Oct. 29, 16 active exposure notices has been posted on the Fraser Health website, the report added.
It also stated that staff were awaiting legal guidance from the B.C. Public Sector Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) to properly review the implications of a vaccine mandate.
Those details were expected to come before the board of education at its next public meeting on Dec. 7.
But at Tuesday’s meeting, vice-chair Rhonda Pauls questioned whether the board needed to wait for guidance from the BCPSEA.
“I don’t feel that I need to wait for that information based on the advice of the medical professionals in the province saying that we do not have data that supports (the need for a mandate) nor does our system have the resources it needs to support it should we pursue something like that,” she said.
But before further discussion could ensue, Petersen and trustee Korky Neufeld pointed out that, because the matter is a labour-relations issue, it would need to move to an in-camera session.
It was there that the trustees decided against a vaccine mandate.
Petersen said the board “wholeheartedly” encourages everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated.
“However, we must also use the data and recommendations from our health professionals to guide us, and our decision takes into account the most current information provided by these experts,” he said.
B.C. Premier John Horgan said last month that it would be up to individual school boards to determine whether vaccine mandates are appropriate for their districts, rather than the province enforcing such decisions.