The debate dragged on for hours, but in the end, the Board of Trustees for Central Okanagan Public Schools voted to implement a vaccine mandate for staff in School District 23.
It means staff will either have to be double vaccinated or take a rapid test before entering the classroom.
The motion passed 5-2, with trustees Amy Geistlinger and Lee-Ann Tiede voting against the mandate.
The board took 90 minutes of public comments before debating the motion brought forward by trustee Norah Bowman, with the vast majority of those who spoke expressing strong opposition.
At one point Tiede made a motion to again postpone a decision, so the board could get clarification about legal protection against any lawsuits that might be filed as a result of the decision, but her motion failed and the vote went ahead.
Geistlinger argued that the issue has divided the community. “I have spoken to countless teachers who’ve said that they have cried, gone home and cried and wept because their staff rooms are such harsh places where people are constantly talking about vaccine mandates and belittling them and calling them names.” She called the rhetoric exhausting.
There was plenty of vitriol from those opposed to the vaccine mandate, with several people suggesting the board should be held liable if anyone suffered an adverse side effect of being vaccinated.
During the follow-up public question and answer session, one woman targetted Bowman personally and swore at her.
“I see trustee Geistlinger is shocked,” said Bowman. “I have not mentioned the phone calls I have received. I have not mentioned the hate mail and threats that I have received, and I’ll tell you why. Because I am making a decision that is based on science and that is based on medical information that comes from the most trusted medical leaders in our country.
“People can hate me as much as they want. People can threaten me and sue me but if any of us make decisions based on threats, then we are not behaving in a good way.”
The trustees had put off a decision for months on whether to implement a vaccine mandate.
So far in B.C., seven school districts have adopted a vaccine mandate for staff, and 25 have stated they will not adopt a mandate.
Now that SD23 is moving ahead, the superintendent and other senior administrators will be meeting with the teachers’ union and CUPE to iron out the details about when staff will have to be vaccinated, or how they will access rapid tests if they choose not to be vaccinated.
Letters of Agreement have already been signed between BCPSEA and the BCTF and the CUPE Presidents’ Council regarding proof of vaccination.
The letters spell out several provisions, including weekly testing for those who aren’t vaccinated and allowing employees to take unpaid leaves for the length of the agreement, which is set to expire on June 30, 2022.