FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – The province has released new guidelines for school districts considering vaccine mandates, but it will still be some time before a decision is made in Fort St. John and the North Peace.

The guidelines were released Friday, October 22nd, and the province has left the final decision on implementing COVID-19 vaccination policies up to school boards.

School District 60 Board Chair Helen Gilbert says it’s soon to speak on the matter, adding that more information is needed.

“We really haven’t had a chance as a board to talk about that part of things, we don’t have all the information. What was released on Friday was just an outline,” Gilbert said.

The school board will meet next as a committee of the whole on November 1st, followed by a regular meeting set for November 15th. No timeline has been set for board discussions or decisions, nor has data been collected on current vaccination rates in the school district.

The guidelines released last week lay out a five-point “roadmap” for school boards about gathering data, seeking legal advice, and consulting with employee and parent groups, as well as the broader community, including First Nations, before making and announcing a decision.

Schools Superintendent Stephen Petrucci says time is needed to analyze the guidelines to make sure all legalities are considered.

“It’s going to take some time,” Petrucci said. “What I can say is that we’re definitely in the part where we’re analyzing the recent guidelines that came out from the Ministry and the PHO, as well as we’re going to be entering a bit of an information gathering phase.”

The Peace River North Teacher’s Association declined to comment but said the union’s position on the matter is the same as Teri Mooring, the head of the BC Teachers’ Federation.

“We could have a situation where the parts of the province that need mandates the most would be the least likely to implement them,” said Mooring, who is urging the province to take the lead for a mandate instead of leaving it in the hands of individual school boards.

Mooring added trustees may face “a high level of pushback” if teachers are required to be vaccinated as a condition of employment, especially in regions with lower vaccinations such as the Peace.

According to Northern Health, 72per cent of Fort St. John residents had a first dose of vaccine as of October 19th, while 62 per cent were fully vaccinated with two doses.