Interior Health backs up Central Okanagan School District staff vaccination survey

Deadline for response from teachers, support staff extended to Jan. 25

Charmane Lazzarotto received the first dose of the COVID-19 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Kelowna on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020. (Interior Health photo)

Charmane Lazzarotto received the first dose of the COVID-19 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Kelowna on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020. (Interior Health photo)

Central Okanagan Public Schools has sought the help of Interior Health to determine the vaccination rate of school district teachers and support staff.

A Friday, Jan. 14, deadline for staff to respond to a school district internal vaccination survey failed to generate a sufficient response, confirmed Central Okanagan Board of Education chair Moyra Baxter.

It was the second attempt by school district to carry out the survey since December.

“We have about 20 per cent of our staff who have not responded to our survey,” Baxter said.

On Tuesday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said health regions will assist school districts in compiling vaccination data from staff, citing both the Delta and Central Okanagan school districts as examples where assistance is needed.

Baxter said Henry has enforcement powers that school districts don’t have to ensure the staff vaccination information be provided.

“We have been in close contact with Interior Health since the pandemic started on various issues so they are aware of where we are at on our survey response and which people have not yet responded,” Baxter said.

“We now have a new deadline of Jan. 25 for those who have not yet responded to do so.”

Baxter said the survey results are an important tool for trustees to consider in determining the necessity of a vaccination mandate.

Trustee Norah Bowman introduced a notice of motion at the Jan. 12 board of education meeting for a resolution to adopt a vaccine mandate for teachers and support staff consistent with mandate agreements negotiated by the province with the BC Teachers’ Federation and CUPE.

Bowman said she brought the notice forward to give trustees and the public an opportunity to prepare for the resolution to be addressed.

“It is not something you just want to spring on the agenda as a last minute addition,” Bowman said.

Bowman added the notion that any school district staff will lose their jobs if not vaccinated is misplaced.

“For the school district, it has been and continues to be a choice for people to get vaccinated or not. The option for those who choose to not be vaccinated is to be give rapid tests up to twice a week, and the tests are supplied to us,” she said, acknowledging that is different from some other vaccine mandates imposed by provincial and federal government agencies.

Bowman said the vaccination level of staff is important for the board to consider because of the potential implications for school closures if staff and students are widely exposed as COVID-positive.

“Functional school closures is something school districts have to look at anyway in situations where so many people are calling in sick,” she said.

“It is helpful to know from vaccination levels where those closures might be most prevalent to occur and how to deal with that.”

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