Metro Vancouver school board seeking legal opinion on mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for staff

A cleaned classroom is seen during a media tour of Hastings Elementary school in Vancouver, Wednesday, September 2, 2020. (Jonathan Hayward / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

A school board in Metro Vancouver plans to seek a legal opinion on whether it can require vaccinations for all staff.

The idea was proposed at a New Westminster Board of Education meeting Friday. Trustee Maya Russell described her recommendation as "another piece" to protect students, especially those under 12 who can't get vaccinated. Trustees were unanimously in favour of Russell's suggestion.

In response, Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said Monday public health is using all tools available to manage the pandemic, including in schools.

"Certainly public health is monitoring the development of the situation with respect to schools and will make appropriate decisions in that regard and it's important for boards to be looking to public health for direction," she said.

Health officials have previously said employers have the right to require their workers to be vaccinated. Whiteside said it's the districts who are the teachers' employers, adding that the province is focusing on mandating vaccines for all health-care workers right now.

"We have heard from the (B.C. Teachers' Federation), their own internal assessment of the vaccination situation with their members, is that vaccination rates amongst educators are very high," Whiteside said. "If there's anyone out there who has not yet had their shot, now is your time."

Russell did acknowledge vaccination rates in the district's schools "are very, very high," saying she was "a little bit torn" about her own proposal.

Trustee Dee Beattie said consulting with teachers' unions is also important.

"This is a really complex case … I think we're going to need to have really good discussion with our two unions," she said during Friday's meeting.

New Westminster's school board will seek a legal opinion and report back on it at an Oct. 12 meeting.