Mount Baker Secondary School welcomes students back for 2021/22 this week. Barry Coulter photo

SD5 board holding off on COVID-19 vaccine mandate decision

No template has been made available to help guide trustee decision-making, says board chair

While B.C. Premier John Horgan downloads COVID-19 vaccine mandates for education staff to individual school districts, the Southeast Kootenay (SD5) Board of Education is holding off on making any immediate local decisions on the issue.

For now.

SD5 board chair Frank Lento said the board is currently on a fact-finding mission, gathering information from provincial organizations, while also liaising with other school districts to see what they are doing.

“The board hasn’t had the opportunity to see any type of templates, guidelines or any of the parameters,” Lento said.

Lento added he will be attending a school district board chairs meeting through the B.C. School Trustees Association on Thursday, Oct. 14, where the issue will likely be an item up for discussion.

“Other districts, I believe, are probably in the same boat, they’re looking for the different frameworks and guidelines and directions and all the implications that mandate implicates,” Lento said. “We’re as a board waiting to see that. We’ve just heard about them verbally and we haven’t received them.”

Shelley Balfour, President of the Cranbrook and District Teachers’ Association, said the majority of her membership is in favour of being vaccinated and implementing a vaccine mandate for education staff.

“We have been living with this pandemic for nearly two years and people are tired and frustrated with folks that are refusing to get vaccinated for random reasons,” Balfour said.

However, delegating to 60 individual school boards is a mistake, she added.

“I believe that the province shouldn’t be relying on individual school boards to implement the vaccination mandate,” Balfour said. “That opens the door up for the protests by the uninformed. It should be all or nothing.”

Last week, Premier Horgan announced that COVID-19 vaccine mandates for education staff is best left to individual school districts rather than a through a provincial health order, such as what’s been done for health care workers in long-term care.

During the announcement on Oct. 7, Horgan defended the decision to delegate vaccine mandates to individual districts by noting that many individuals are already vaccinated through the age-based program and that mandates are a “last resort.”

“We need to make sure that the province school districts, which are duly elected and have authority and responsibility when it comes to their staff, are all having a say in how we proceed,” Horgan said, adding that trustees can get the necessary medical information to make informed decisions by reaching out to public health officials.

COVID-19 school exposures update

There are currently eight schools — seven public and one independent — on the Interior Health school exposures website, with potential exposure dates ranging from Sept. 29-Oct. 8.

SD5 Superintendent Silke Yardley updated the situation during Tuesday’s board meeting.

“As you know, we have a fair amount of cases in our schools at the moment. We have spoken with the medical health officer last week and another doctor from Interior Health looking at our situation in Cranbrook, but right now we have had classes that have had exposures,” Yardley told the board.

“…We did have a principal meeting last week and we did update the principals on the situation in Cranbrook.”

In the meeting with the Medical Health Officer, Yardley said options are available for returning to more stringent protocols — except learning cohorts — if necessary, and added that some schools are reinforcing what’s already in place, such as locking doors or limiting visitors.

“So they’re going to look at some of them, tightening up a few of their protocols, even though they are following the correct protocols right now, but because some of our schools have more cases than we anticipated, they’re starting to look a little bit,” Yardley said.

According to the latest BC Centre for Disease Control statistics, vaccination rates for eligible students in Cranbrook between 12-17, first dose and second dose rates are at 72 per cent and 61 per cent, respectively.