Teachers and school support workers should be among the first to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, the Campbell River school board says.
“As the the provincial government deliberates on the groups of people who should receive the vaccine first, the board asks that the government give a high level of priority to teachers, educational assistants and others who work with cohorts of students,” SD72 board chair John Kerr says in a letter to B.C. Minister of Education, Jennifer Whiteside. “In our opinion, they deserve high priority to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible.”
The letter to the minister is dated Dec. 2 and was sent prior to the latest news about the first doses of the vaccine arriving in the province this month. The letter acknowledges that plans for implementation of the vaccine were already in development and will include a distribution system that identifies and prioritizes which parts of the population will receive earlier access to a vaccine. Currently, this includes residents of long-term care and retirement homes, hospitals and health care facilities, wherever the risk of infection and transmission is higher, Kerr says.
Health officials are expected to reveal plans for B.C.’s share of the 249,000 vaccine doses later this week.
Kerr expressed “heartfelt admiration and appreciation” for all School District 72 employees who have made the return to school for students as safe as possible. These employees are providing an essential service to the children of B.C., he says.
“Despite uncertainty, frequent changes, fatigue, safety concerns, and stress, employees worked long and hard to make the return to school for students and colleagues as safe as possible,” Kerr says. “Despite some remaining concerns and questions that remain unanswerable, they continue to do so in classrooms, in hallways on buses, and on school grounds from the time students arrive each day until they leave.
“Those who work in classrooms are in a confined place with large numbers of students who are not required to wear masks. These workers are with the students for extended periods of time and they may face the increased threat of infection from the COVID-19 virus as a result of these conditions.”
To demonstrate support and appreciation for the work done by school district employees and to underline the board’s concern for their ongoing health and safety, the board “strongly requests and advocates that these employees, both in our district and across the province, be considered front-line workers who are providing an essential service.”
The board’s letter arose from a Campbell River Board of School trustees meeting held in November in which trustees felt teachers and school district employees were not getting the recognition they deserved in the face of the pandemic.
Trustee Richard Franklin said at that meeting that “there’s not very many positions in our society where you have an adult in a room with upward of 30 students with no masks on but that is what faces our teachers and educational assistants every day.”
Like nurses and doctors, teachers and school employees are placing themselves in a position of risk and they need the board’s support, Franklin said, and to that end, he put forward a motion to have the government place a high priority on providing a COVID-19 vaccine to school district employees.