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Surrey school board continues to discuss vaccine mandate as province releases ‘guidelines’

The Ministry of Education released a document that tells boards to determine their own policy
Surrey teacher Derek Duke gets vaccinated for COVID-19 at the North Surrey clinic on March 24, 2021. Surrey teachers were among the first teachers in the province to get the vaccine. (submitted photo: Fraser Health)

The Surrey Board of Education is continuing to discuss a possible COVID-19 vaccine mandate for staff, according to a release.

This comes the Ministry of Education released “new guidelines” to support school boards that are considering vaccine requirements.

READ ALSO: B.C. school boards told to determine their own vaccine policy for staff, Oct. 23, 2021

The ministry says the guidelines, which include gathering data and consultation with First Nations and employee groups, will help school boards encourage vaccination in their communities and to determine if a mandatory vaccination policy works best for them.

The guidelines released by the ministry were developed by an advisory committee that outlines steps that boards should be taking as they consider this issue given the complexities of such a decision.

The ministry says it will also work with schools, public and private, to make sure they have the tools and resources to support the process.

Meantime, the Surrey school board Saturday (Oct. 23) released a statement that trustees are continuing to discuss a potential mandate.

“The Board feels strongly that vaccines are critical in ending this pandemic, but they also recognize the Board’s responsibility to their employees.”

Terry Allen, vice-chair of the board, said trustees are “approaching this in a thoughtful and careful manner.”

“We have had an opportunity to follow the provincial process, to hear from our Medical Health Officer, to consider the available research and consult with our partners to hear all perspectives,” he said in the release.

“We also continue to gather information on the provincial direction from the Ministry of Education and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association on this important public health and labour relations issue.”

Last week, the board met with Fraser Health’s medical health officer and board chairs met with the ministry to discuss a mandate.

Allen said the board was informed Surrey and White Rock have high vaccination rates, “and while a vaccine mandate for staff could increase vaccine coverage within the school setting, there would not be a significant impact on the number exposures since the vast majority of cases in schools right now are students who are ineligible to be vaccinated.”

As of Oct. 18, 86.4 per cent of Surrey’s eligible population – those ages 12 and up – are fully vaccinated. For 18-plus, it’s 87.1 per cent, and for the 12 to 17 age group, it’s a bit lower at 77.4 per cent.

READ ALSO: 86.4% of eligible Surrey residents are fully vaccinated, Oct. 21, 2021

READ ALSO: West and East Newton lead the way for single doses for adults in Surrey, Oct. 14, 2021

“Our Board recognizes the value of getting vaccinated and we encourage everyone that is eligible to get immunized, but we also need to consider, given our high vaccination rates and our high confidence in the safety of our schools, whether a mandate of this nature would be beneficial for our district and would actually achieve the outcomes we desire,” said Allen.

Surrey school-based staff were among the first in B.C.’s education system to be vaccinated after the region was hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic in the second and third waves.

The Now-Leader has reached out to the district to find out what percentage of staff is fully vaccinated.

READ ALSO: Surrey school district releases online ventilation database, but critics say more needs to be done, Oct. 16, 2021

– With files from The Canadian Press

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Lauren Collins

About the Author: Lauren Collins

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media's national team, after my journalism career took me across B.C. since I was 19 years old.
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