Students who are part of Rockridge Secondary’s Model UN club say they’re looking forward to their first in-person conference after the school district changed its stance on allowing them to attend the event, which requires a vaccine passport.
Annalise Knapp, a Grade 12 student who is a member of the club, said she was thrilled to get word recently that students will be allowed to register.
“Everyone was really, really happy,” she said.
The Vancouver model UN is a once-a-year conference for high school students that happens at the Hyatt Regency hotel downtown. At the conference, up to 1,600 students typically take on roles of delegates from different countries as though they were taking part in debates at the real United Nations general assembly.
The in-person conference has been on hold during the pandemic, but is scheduled to be back as an in-person event in February.
Last month, as registration was opening for the conference, Knapp and other students were told their club wouldn’t be able to sign up because the event requires that students present proof of vaccinations. That ran counter to the school district’s obligation to only support fully inclusive activities, they were told.
But after Knapp and several other students protested what they saw as a policy unfair to vaccinated students, the school district apparently changed its mind.
In a letter to students, school principal Graham Jackson wrote, “we are recognizing that certain venues, at least for now, may still require that all people 12 years and older show proof of vaccination.” In those cases, students will be allowed to attend if the activity is considered “educationally compelling,” wrote Jackson.
The issue had pitted vaccinated students who wanted to take part in activities requiring proof of vaccination against the school district’s understanding that under the provincial public health order, teens should be exempted.
In some cases, however, third-party organizers or venues are still asking that proof of vaccination be provided.
Sean Nosek, associate superintendent, said in those cases, schools will look at events on a case-by-case basis, but added, “We’re optimistic we’ll be able to make these things happen. This is a conversation bigger than West Vancouver.”
Knapp said it still isn’t clear which activities would be considered “educationally compelling” and which wouldn’t. “I don’t really know where they would draw the line.”
Earlier this month, Knapp took part in a grad boat cruise for Rockridge students where teens had to present a vaccine passport. That event was taken over by parent organizers after the school district declined to be involved.
In terms of actual grad events, however, Nosek said the school district has booked all of its usual venues and is planning to proceed as usual.
At least one of the hotels has been clear it won’t require proof of vaccinations for grad events, he said.
Baran Chahardovalee, 14, another member of the Model UN club, said she feels the students’ decision to speak out about the issue has made a difference.
“I’m glad we made our voices heard,” she said. “I feel like if we hadn’t said something, it would have been on the back burner for a while.”