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Island teachers say mandatory staff vaccinations don’t offer enough protection

Teachers put themselves at risk daily, feel unsupported, Sooke district teachers’ president says
Staff working at Spencer Middle School in Langford and all other Sooke School District facilities must be able to prove they are vaccinated by March 7, or agree to take weekly rapid COVID tests, or risk being placed on extraordinary leave. (Black Press Media file photo)

The Sooke School District’s newly announced vaccine mandate falls short as an effort to keep staff and students safe.

So says the Sooke Teachers Association, which said teachers are still dealing with a lack of available N95 masks and substandard ventilation systems.

“Vaccinations are an important line of defense, but only one of many available to us. So much more still needs to be done to address Sooke teachers’ health and safety concerns,” association president Jennifer Anderson said in a statement. “What they need to feel safe is for immediate, tangible action to be taken to address the outstanding safety issues, particularly around ventilation and access to N95 masks.”

Out of 28 schools in SD62, only two currently have ventilation systems that meet the province’s minimum standard of MERV-13 filters, according to Anderson.

“Our teachers are putting themselves at risk every day going into their schools and feel utterly unsupported by the district,” she said. “It’s wearing them down in a way I’ve never seen before, and I am growing increasingly concerned with the high rates of teacher burnout, and the likelihood of us facing a real crisis around replacement teacher shortages.”

SD62 board chair Ravi Parmar announced Monday a vaccine mandate would come into effect as of March 7 for all staff, citing the recent surge in Omicron cases, and consultations with staff and parents. Plans are in motion to have a rapid testing system available by then, so teachers who have an exemption or cannot provide proof of vaccination can be tested weekly and continue to work.

The district needs to expedite plans to make rapid testing kits available, Anderson added

Parmar also noted there were times in the past month where qualified educators from the board office had to step in because the teachers-on-call list had been depleted.

READ MORE: Sooke School District declares vaccine mandate for all staff


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