All School District 8 staff will be required to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination as of March 11.
If they don’t, the district will require them to undergo regular rapid testing or be put on unpaid leave. Students won’t be required to submit their vaccination status.
The district’s board of trustees voted in favour of the plan in an in-camera meeting Jan. 18, and announced it Thursday. The decision makes SD8, which includes schools in the Nelson and Creston areas, the third district in B.C. to require proof of vaccination from staff after previous announcements in Delta and Revelstoke.
An order issued Monday by public health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gave health authorities the option to ask districts for the vaccination status of staff.
SD8 superintendent Trish Smillie said Thursday the district has not yet received that request from Interior Health. Its plan, she said, is a proactive measure meant to protect staff and students from the virus.
Part of the district’s dilemma, Smillie said, is staff who take sick days currently don’t have to disclose if they have COVID-19.
“We have staff absences that we believe are reflective of the illness,” she said. “We don’t know if that’s COVID or not. At this point we have been very fortunate to remain open at all of our sites.”
Smillie could not yet say how often unvaccinated staff would be required to undergo rapid testing — she said that will be guided by the BC Public School Employers’ Association — or who will pay for the tests. Consultation on the specifics of the plan, she said, is still underway with unions and the district’s Indigenous partners.
The order comes as Omicron has led to a surge in local COVID-19 cases.
The B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BC CDC) announced Wednesday that the Nelson area, which includes Salmo and parts of the Slocan Valley, had reported a record 232 cases during the week of Jan. 9 to 15.
That number is likely inaccurate due to the BC CDC’s recommendation that only people with COVID-19 symptoms who are also at risk of severe disease, or those who work in high-risk settings such as health care, should get tested.
Meanwhile, it’s unclear how many staff and students have become infected since schools reopened Jan. 10.
Parents from nine Nelson-area schools have also received letters from principals alerting them to attendance numbers that require a public health investigation, but no schools have been closed.
The Ministry of Education has stated functional closures will be considered if a school’s attendance drops 10 per cent below historical norms, or if fewer than 75 per cent of students in a grade are in present.
Smillie said parents have so far been supportive of staff since schools reopened.
“We just need to be compassionate towards each other as we go forward and continue working on our health and safety to keep each other safe and to care about the well being of others.”
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