School Board says vaccination will be required for staff

News of over a dozen school deaths from COVID in Miami has led ACPS to reconsider it’s earlier position of allowing staff to decide whether to be vaccinated or not.

At a School Board meeting last week, the board voted to make it clear that in the coming weeks a plan will be put together on requiring all staff to be vaccinated — unless that falls into the broad category of claiming a medical or religious exemption.

At the meeting, Alexandria City Public Schools Executive Director of Human Resources Melanie Kay-Wyatt said that 84% of staff report that they’ve been vaccinated, a 62% increase from this past May. But some on the School Board said they’re still concerned at the amount of unvaccinated staff that leaves in the school.

“If it were 98% vaccinated I’d be less apprehensive,” said School Board member Christopher Suarez. “But the reality is there are 422 staff in our building who don’t have the vaccine. That is a lot of people. I do want to make sure good policy is implemented. I don’t want to be rash or unreasonable, but I think at a minimum we need to have some sort of firm resolution today that tells staff there will be mandatory testing. If you don’t have a bonafide medical or religious reason, you will want to get that first dose tomorrow.”

Others on the school board said they had similar concerns and urged their colleagues to pursue mandatory vaccination to the extent allowable under law.

“My feeling is, if for religious or some health reason a teacher can’t be vaccinated, that should be acceptable,” said School Board member Margaret Lorber, “but otherwise we should require all teachers and all staff.”

Some on the board said they were baffled by the decision of some staff not to get vaccinated.

“I am curious for those who are not getting vaccinated,” said School Board member Heather Thornton. “I want to know to the extent that we can know. All of the evidence coming up from above shows that this is the safe route to go.”

The School Board adjusted the agenda to allow the board to vote on a resolution that called for staff to come back to the City Council with a plan to move forward on vaccination requirements. There are still several uncertainties, like whether some vaccines can be required and how the schools would handle staffing shortages if there’s an outbreak. Superintendent Gregory Hutchings said ACPS is in conversation with the health department and is working to determine what kind of disciplinary action is allows to enforce the mandate.

“There’s a lot of grey because no one in Virginia has challenged this,” Hutchings said. “So it’s difficult when we don’t have any legal studies.”

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