Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools has halted an order mandating all its employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19.
The school district announced in January, amid surging COVID-19 case counts, that it would require all workers to be inoculated for the virus. The administrative procedure was set to take effect Monday, March 28, the first day after spring break; however, Charlene McKay, school board chairperson, told the News Bulletin that the requirement has been put on hold given the current climate.
Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C. health officer, announced March 11 that following spring break, masks would no longer be mandatory for students from kindergarten to Grade 12.
“The mandate for vaccinations will not commence, as previously planned, given all of the changes, so that’s something we can revisit at a later time should we need to…” McKay said. “It’s essentially been put on hold by the superintendent given the shifts and changes that are happening with the provincial health authority.”
Jeremy Inscho, Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district teachers’ union president, said the decision is not surprising given the removal of the mask mandate and the fact that vaccine card checks are expected to end April 8. He said he was “a little bit indifferent,” as it wasn’t the union’s role to put the rule in place, but rather to ensure it was done “legally and fairly” which the district did, he said.
McKay said students and staff can still wear masks if they feel more comfortable and they will be supported and Inscho echoed that, stating it is a matter of personal preference and decisions should be respected. His membership has told him there have been unintended consequences to the mask mandate.
“I know there’s lots of teachers who are happy in one sense that we’re at a place where we can have fewer masks,” said Inscho. “We’ve had a lot of vocal strain this year, speaking loudly through masks has been difficult … so we’re hoping to mitigate that, but at the same time there’s COVID, that’s the No. 1 concern.”
In an e-mail, the B.C. Ministry of Education said all school districts and independent school authorities have received and are implementing updated health and safety guidelines. The ministry also said it understands that “everyone is moving forward at their own pace, and students, teachers, and staff may continue to use masks and other layers of protection based on their own comfort and risk factors.”