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B.C. Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside has said the vaccination rate among teachers is already high.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

The school district in Delta, B.C., has become the first in the province to introduce COVID-19 vaccination requirements for its staff members, and the president of the province’s teachers’ union says several other districts are now deciding whether to follow suit.

In a news release on Wednesday, the Delta School District said staff members will be given a minimum of six weeks, starting on Jan. 17, to disclose whether they are vaccinated. Any who are unvaccinated or who fail to disclose their vaccination status by the deadline will be required to undergo regular rapid testing in order to continue work. Those who refuse testing will be required to take unpaid leave.

“We feel it’s best for the students and staff in our particular school district,” Delta School District chair Val Windsor said in an interview.

“It’s the best way you can do to help protect students and staff. It’s going to help reduce symptoms. And if somebody gets it, it will help reduce their time away from work or schools.”

British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) president Teri Mooring said her organization is still hoping to see a provincewide vaccine mandate for its 46,000 members. She pointed out that at least four other districts are in the process of deciding on vaccine requirements.

“We do expect others to follow suit,” she said. Vaccine requirements are particularly important for areas with low vaccination rates, such as B.C.’s interior and north, she added.

Ms. Mooring said strict vaccine policies can help prevent functional closings, which happen when so many staff members are ill or self-isolating that a school has no choice but to shut down.

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The BCTF and many parents in the province have been asking the B.C. government to require teachers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Last fall, the government announced it would leave the decision up to individual school boards, which then all declined to introduce mandates. The province’s larger school boards explained vaccination rates in their communities were strong, and that they couldn’t afford to lose unvaccinated staff members.

B.C. Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside has said the vaccination rate among teachers is already high.

Ms. Windsor said she will not know how the new policy will affect staffing levels in her district until it is implemented. “What we’re hoping is that it will be absolutely minimal,” she said.

She added the Delta School Board didn’t adopt a vaccine policy earlier because it didn’t have enough guidance until recently. Shortly before winter break, the BC Public School Employers’ Association released a package of information that helped the district make its decision, she said.

In an October presentation to school boards, the Fraser Health Authority said mandating vaccination could lower the risk of COVID-19 infection in schools and could prompt more staff members to get their shots. But the authority added it did not have the resources or jurisdiction to implement or enforce mandates for staff, nor did it have the resources to conduct COVID-19 testing in schools.

Ms. Windsor said the Delta School District will be more or less on its own in implementing its policy.

Vancouver parent Kyenta Martins, who is a member of the advocacy group Safe Schools Coalition BC, said she hopes other school districts will also introduce vaccine requirements for staff members.

She said districts should not fear of losing large numbers of teachers if vaccination rates are already very high.

Across the province, 92 per cent of eligible people 12 and older have received their first doses of COVID-19 vaccines, 90 per cent have received their second doses and nearly 30 per cent have received third doses.

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