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Former B.C. attorney general Barry Penner wants to see mandatory vaccinations for teachers

Father of 2 school kids, Penner says the province won’t order it so the Chilliwack school board should
Former B.C. attorney general and MLA Barry Penner said on Aug. 26, 2021 that if Dr. Bonnie Henry won’t mandate vaccinations for teachers, the Chilliwack Board of Education should. He is seen here outside Cheam elementary in Chilliwack on Aug. 27, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

A Chilliwack father of two, who happens to be a former MLA and attorney general of B.C., is upset that there is no provincial vaccination mandate for teachers and other school district staff.

Barry Penner’s two children attend Cheam elementary and will be going in to grades 2 and 5 this year. And since provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has not ordered adults in school setting who work with children under 12 to be vaccinated, he thinks the Chilliwack School District should do it.

“I think it would make sense given Dr. Bonnie Henry’s comments on Tuesday (Aug. 24), she said it twice, that the most important thing we can to to protect children is to make sure adults around them are vaccinated,” Penner told The Progress. “Particularly for the children under 12 who are not eligible.”

After the provincial government unveiled its back-to-school COVID safety plan on Monday, B.C. teachers union leader said it doesn’t go far enough. B.C. Teachers Federation (BCTF) president Teri Mooring said she wanted to see a testing strategy in place in schools, a K-to-12 mask mandate, and improved ventilation in schools.

READ MORE: B.C. teachers say back-to-school plan doesn’t address testing, ventilation concerns

Mooring also said that while teachers in general have high vaccination rates, the union is not opposed to mandatory vaccination.

Asked if the supposedly high vaccination rates among teachers allayed his concerns, Penner said “no.”

“Do we know what the vaccination rate is for teachers? Will parents be told whether their teachers are vaccinated? I suspect not, so that will lead to serious concern on the part of many parents, including myself, about whether their children are facing an unnecessary risk because the teacher may have chosen not to be vaccinated.”

While there were several exposure notifications at most schools sent out last school year, there were very few outbreaks. But the delta variant is a game changer for Penner who is concerned about how the higher infectiousness could impact school settings.

“We don’t ever want to impose measures lightly,” Penner said. “They only do it when it appears to be absolutely necessary. Given the challenge that COVID-19 presents and is unprecedented in our lifetime, I think vaccines need to be mandatory in certain settings.”

Numbers released in an InsightsWest poll this week found that 83 per cent of respondents think B.C. teachers should be vaccinated. That compared to 87 per cent for hospital and medical workers.

On Aug. 25, the Toronto District School Board mandated teacher vaccinations at its meeting. New York City did the same. And the State of Washington has mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for all teachers and staff.

Asked by The Progress about Penner’s suggestion that the Chilliwack Board of Education should mandate vaccinations for teachers, board vice-chair Jared Mumford said he was scheduled to attend a meeting Friday afternoon with provincial public health officials and the deputy minister of education. He said the board may be able to comment further on the subject on Monday.

Reichelt further added that the school district has been following all public health guidelines throughout the pandemic, and any local policies on COVID-19 protocols would need to be decided upon by the entire board.

See for updates on this story next week.

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