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OPINION: School board, union and DPAC in Chilliwack toss hot potato of mandatory vaccinations for teachers

No one taking a firm stance on the issue as NDP government similarly waffles by forming a committee
Former B.C. attorney general and MLA Barry Penner said on Aug. 26, 2021 that if Dr. Bonnie Henry won’t mandate vaccinations for teachers, the Chilliwack Board of Education should. He is seen here outside Cheam elementary on Aug. 27, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

As parents, teachers, politicians and public health officials debate mask mandates, COVID exposure notifications and school ventilation, there is one big hot potato being tossed around.

Should Dr. Bonnie Henry and the Ministry of Health, or in the alternative the Chilliwack School District, institute a policy of mandatory vaccinations for teachers, school staff and all adults in our schools?

Few involved have a concrete answer.

Former Chilliwack MLA and attorney general Barry Penner, also a parent of two elementary-school aged children, continues to be outspoken about this subject, insisting that mandatory vaccinations for adults in schools only makes sense given the messaging from the public health officer.

“Dr. Henry has repeatedly said that employers can require vaccination of their employees, and that the best way to protect children is to make sure that the adults around them are vaccinated,” Penner told me this week.

“It’s totally perplexing how vaccines will be mandatory for B.C. public sector workers (who mostly work with other adults) but not for people who work with children.”

Penner was referring to the order that all public service employees in the province must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 22.

READ MORE: B.C. public service employees must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 22, province says

READ MORE: Former Chilliwack MLA Barry Penner wants to see mandatory vaccinations for teachers

Teachers, however, are not included in this order. That is likely because they are not employed by the provincial government. They are employed by the school districts where they work.

So what do the local interested parties in education say about mandatory vaccinations of adults in schools? I asked the chair of the Chilliwack School Board, the president of the Chilliwack Teachers Association (CTA) and the chair of the District Parents Advisory Council (DPAC).

Keeping with the food metaphor, we move now from hot potatoes to waffles.

“DPAC doesn’t have an official position on mandatory vaccines for school staff at this time,” DPAC chair Alicia Fleetham told me Tuesday. “We would have to consult our PAC membership who would have to consult the parents at their school, which takes a fair bit of time. With the announcement today we are watching and waiting for more information to be released before we take any further action.”

The head of the local union representing teachers?

“The CTA recognizes the importance of vaccinations to stop the spread of COVID-19 and would support a vaccine mandate from the employer,” CTA president Danielle Bennett said. “The vaccination rate is low overall in Chilliwack and, as we know, what happens in our community is reflected in our schools. There will be some teachers who are unable to be vaccinated for legitimate medical reasons, and the CTA would work with those teachers and the employer to ensure that appropriate accommodations are made while protecting the member’s right to the privacy of their medical diagnoses.”

Definitely a firmer position.

The school board?

“Trustees only learned of the vaccine mandate for government employees on the afternoon on Oct. 5, only a few hours before our public board meeting,” Board chair Trustee Willow Reichelt told me before Tuesday’s meeting, something she reiterated in an answer to a similar question at the meeting. “We have not had the time to review the implications of this announcement or to discuss if/when/how a vaccine mandate may be proposed for our district or any other. Therefore, I am unable to speak to the Board’s stance at this time. We will be following this issue closely over the coming days.”

It’s clear that most teachers and parents are in favour of mandatory vaccinations for any adult who is in contact with our unvaccinated children in schools, but everyone is treading very lightly on the topic of freedom of choice when we talk about people who refuse to get vaccinated in Chilliwack.

Meanwhile, at the provincial level, Health Minister Adrian Dix addressed the matter this week by creating a committee.

Penner says the time for a committee to discuss mandatory vaccinations for teachers was many months ago.

“There’s an old saying in politics that if you want to delay dealing with an issue, strike a committee.”

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