The Sooke School District (SD62) has declared a vaccine mandate for all staff, effective March 7. Any staff member who has a medical exemption or who refuses to provide vaccination proof will be able to take weekly rapid tests starting on that date. If staff refuse to take a test, they will be placed on extraordinary leave without pay, according to SD62 board chair Ravi Parmar said at a virtual media call Monday morning.
The recent surge of the Omicron variant cases forced the district’s hand, he said.
“I certainly know that as a board, we did feel kind of let down by public health when they weren’t able to make this decision. But we appreciate the perspectives that they have,” Parmar said.
“We’ve heard from our families, we’ve heard from our staff, from our community, from our Indigenous rights holders. And we believe to our core that proceeding with a proof of vaccination procedure for all employees is the right decision at this time.”
Asked to estimate how many staff departures might occur due to the mandate, Parmar said it was too early to say.
In December the district instituted a requirement for all new hires to be fully vaccinated and the SD62 board asked superintendent Scott Stinson to make preparations in anticipation of a potential full-staff mandate. This was done to help roll out a mandate as quickly as possible, Parmar said.
The B.C. Public School Employees Association told SD62 in consultation that six weeks’ notice was required, so instituting a full mandate couldn’t have been done sooner, he added.
The board initially decided against a staff-wide mandate, not only because other school boards rejected the action, but due to labour shortages the district is facing for some positions, Parmar said. The district’s current average absentee rate for staff is 15 per cent.
“We’re monitoring it on a daily basis. It certainly has led to situations where we may not have had enough (teachers-on-call),” he said.
Parmar did not rule out the possibility of functional closure of schools depending on the future spread of the Omicron variant. Functional closure is a temporary shutdown due to a lack of staff available to provide the necessary level of teaching, supervision, support and/or custodial service to ensure the health and safety of students and staff.
Parents were advised Mon. (Jan 31) to be prepared for potential closures.
Editor’s note: This version of the story includes information not contained in the original story.