An open letter to New Westminster school board trustees:
We are writing to request the board of education reconsider its recent decision to not move forward with a staff vaccine mandate in New Westminster. We are asking that you introduce a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for the New Westminster school staff community immediately.
According to the BCCDC, as of Oct. 13, 2021, New Westminster has a vaccination rate that is amongst the highest in the province. Given 86% of our residents are fully vaccinated, it would appear the majority of parents in New Westminster are likely to believe that the decision you made is not in sync with the public measures already in place and is completely removed from the desires and sentiments of the predominance of the New Westminster general public.
We are troubled with the province’s failure to make a provincewide mandate. However, with the province egregiously pushing that decision onto the school boards, we were hopeful this board would exercise its ability to protect the school community by instituting the strongest possible measures available: a vaccine mandate. There is irrefutable proof that vaccinations work in stemming the spread of COVID-19. Mandatory vaccination policy among the eligible is the most reliable step towards the health and safety of communities.
For this board to not take the most important, known step to protect the school community and demand mandatory vaccination is beyond comprehension. Further, the B.C. Teachers Federation pronounced it would support a vaccine mandate.
According to this school board’s “statement on a staff vaccine mandate,” 94% of staff in B.C. schools are fully vaccinated, with an additional 1% having one vaccine and intending to get the second. This means that this board is pandering to approximately 5% of school staff who are refusing to get vaccinated. In fact, it is probably safe to assume, given the high vaccination rate in New Westminster, this number is lower. By pandering to the unvaccinated staff and allowing them in the schools, you are endorsing and allowing 5% of people, who research has shown tend to lead high-risk lives in respect to this virus, control 95% of vaccinated people who are doing their level best to avoid spreading the virus.
Furthermore, you are allowing the unvaccinated to freeride on the backs of all those that have been vaccinated and, more importantly, to freeride on the backs of our children, who likely will have a similar vaccination rate to the people 12 years and older. This is shameful.
Parents on the whole do not feel that the schools are particularly safe for their unvaccinated young children if, for nothing else, for the number of contacts that inevitably occur in a school setting.
An additional grievance is the paradox of a mask mandate for children. While we all agree that masks are one mechanism in the fight against COVID, vaccination is a far more efficacious tool. We find it an anomaly that children, as young as five years old, are mandated to be masked for the duration of the school day and yet could be near an unvaccinated adult for the whole school day.
If this board continues to indulge the unvaccinated, there needs to be greater transparency and information sharing with the parents. Further, this needs to be done promptly. We ask that we, the parents, be informed immediately if their child is going to be spending any time with an unvaccinated staff member. Parents then can make their own decision as to the level of exposure they are comfortable with, for their child. We feel that the safety of our most valuable resource, our children, supersedes privacy issues the 5%, unvaccinated staff members might have.
This board uses the argument of staffing issues if a vaccine mandate was brought in. Given the high vaccination rate in New Westminster, we feel that the majority of parents would accommodate and work alongside the schools to keep their children safe and away from unvaccinated adults.
In most sectors in this province, mandatory vaccination or proof of vaccination is required. By this inaction on the part of the board to mandate staff vaccines, we strongly believe our children are not only being left behind but are being put in an untenable and dangerous situation.
As winter progresses and we head indoors, with the inevitable respiratory illness and the roll-out of the vaccine for the under 11 years old still weeks away, these are exigent circumstances, and we feel it behooves the New Westminster board of education to reverse their decision and mandate a vaccine for all staff, effective immediately.
Ali Elman, Stacey Cheverie and 35 other signatories