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Potential staffing shortages top of mind when considering vaccine mandate

The BC Principals and Vice Principals Association says it’s hard to find casual staff to fill absences.

As SD48 decides against a vaccine mandate, the BC Principals and Vice Principals Association says that potential staffing shortages were a major concern for his members across the province.

Recently, the Sea to Sky School District announced that it would not be mandating COVID-19 vaccines for its staff.

As part of the reason for its decision, the school board noted Howe Sound’s high vaccination rate.

As of Nov. 18, of the vaccine-eligible people who are 12 and older, 97% have received at least one dose of the vaccine and 92% have received two doses of the vaccine.

The president of the BC Principals and Vice Principals Association told The Chief that another big consideration is staffing levels.

Darren Danyluk said his organization was part of the advisory group that helped draft the K-12 Sector Guidelines for Vaccination Policies that the school board consulted when making the decision.

He said the guidelines ask officials to look at vaccination rates in their school districts and to assess their capacity to offer educational programming.

“Every morning starts for a principal with a little game of Tetris. They figure out how they're going to cover off the absences,” said Darren Danyluk.

“So, every day already starts with this struggle, and, many days, we can’t fill the absences we already have, so when mandates for vaccines began to become a question, that was what was foremost in the minds of our people. If that should happen, what's the plan?”

He said he couldn’t speak to the level of staffing in SD48, but he noted that there is trouble finding casual replacement staff even in the Vancouver area, where staffing is generally higher.

“Every day, Vancouver has vacancies they cannot fill, because they don’t have enough casual employees, so I can't imagine [SD]48 has enough casual staff either,” Danyluk said.

“I don't know anywhere in the province that is in a good situation with casual staff for teachers on call.”

He said safety is the Number 1 priority, and vaccines are one way to achieve that. There is, however, a need to keep schools open.

“If the whole purpose of the vaccination mandate is for safety, as well as keeping schools open, if we end up having to close a school because of a functional challenge of putting people in front of the students, then you've kind of defeated one of the principles, which is keeping schools open and available for families,” Danyluk said.

Local teachers have responded to SD48’s decision by toeing the provincial BCTF line.

“The BCTF’s position is that they would not oppose any mandated vaccinations for teachers,” said local Sea to Sky teachers union president April Lowe.

She said the Sea to Sky division adopts the same position.

“I am a local president and so I support all the decisions of the BCTF,” said Lowe. “The BCTF is disappointed it was not a provincial mandate. As a union, we don't separate out our members, and so what happens in Chilliwack should happen in Squamish, should happen in Vancouver Island — all members should be treated the same.”

In August, BCTF president Teri Mooring said the union would not oppose a mandate for K–12 workers as long as privacy rights were protected and members who needed medical exemptions were accommodated.

However, in October, Mooring released a statement that appeared to have a stronger pro-vaccine stance.

“The BCTF Executive Committee met again last night, discussed the issues, and took the position that the Federation supports provincial mandatory vaccines in the K–12 system for school staff and volunteers,” said Mooring in a news release.

“This is about keeping everyone safe — you, your family, your coworkers, and your students. We all need to do everything we can to protect each other. Please get vaccinated.”In that same release,

Mooring also said she was concerned about a district-by-district mandate.

“That’s the wrong approach,” she said.

As of September 2020, the Sea to Sky Teachers Association represents 473 teachers.

CUPE 779, which represents support staff at SD48, did not respond to requests for comment.

However, the provincial CUPE president has come out in support of mandatory vaccinations.

“The B.C. government implementing mandatory vaccinations across the public service makes sense as they are the best proven measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our communities,” said Karen Ranalletta in a news release dated Oct. 6. “Given the rise in COVID cases in our schools, we think it also seems prudent to apply this mandate to the K-12 system.”

As of September 2020, there are 308 support staff workers in the Sea to Sky School District.

There are roughly 5,000 students in the school district.

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