As schools face challenges returning to in-person classroom structures, many school districts across North Carolina are implementing vaccination mandates for their faculty and staff.
On Sept. 9, United States President Joe Biden issued an executive order requiring federal employees in the executive branch and government contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Weeks later, a number of local school districts are adopting similar expectations for their staff.
“We should care about our staff, and we should encourage them to be protected because yes, if you have the vaccine it does not mean that you cannot be infected,” said Frederick Ravin III, a member of the Durham Public Schools Board of Education. “We understand that, but it can help avoid contracting COVID and it can also help fight becoming seriously ill, fight death.”
The board asked staff members to present a plan for implementing a faculty vaccine mandate at their Sept. 23 board meeting. This request follows the vaccination mandate for general employees that was approved by the board at their Sept. 9 meeting.
Earlier in the Sept. 23 meeting, the board voted unanimously in favor of a mask mandate motioned by DPS Superintendent Pascal Mubenga.
“Our board is absolutely committed to maintaining the safety of all of our students and staff, and they see that vaccination is the way to go,” said Chip Sudderth, chief communications officer of Durham Public Schools.
As of Sept. 23., 57.3% of all Durham Public Schools employees are vaccinated. According to Alvera Lesane, assistant superintendent for human resources in DPS, protecting the health of students and staff is as important as minimizing turnover due to new mandates.
“We want to make sure that we are taking an approach that is balancing the incredible safety we need to provide in our environment and making sure that we do not have any negative impact on our recruitment and retention efforts,” Lesane said.
Lesane recommended to the board that unvaccinated employees be required to get COVID-19 tested weekly.
“We’re not trying to force people to do anything that they don’t want to do to their bodies,” Ravin III said. “But I think it’s our responsibility to encourage that everyone to protect themselves and help protect everybody else that they’re around.”
The DPS Board of Education is also considering student vaccination rates. They hope to collect data on how many students are currently vaccinated and how many families with students in the 5-12 age range will vaccinate their children upon approval.
The board discussed incentivizing strategies to encourage high school students, especially those participating in high-risk extracurricular activities, to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Orange County Schools decided in late August that all school staff must be fully vaccinated by Sept. 23. This decision followed the FDA full approval of the Pfizer mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. Unvaccinated teachers and employees who do not have medical or religious exemption will not be eligible for employment at the school district after Sept. 23.
Despite their mandate for employees, Orange County does not require vaccinations for students involved in sports or high-risk extracurriculars. Instead, these students are expected to participate in COVID-19 testing twice a week.
In a unanimous vote on Sept. 2, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education passed a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for all employees. CHCCS staff have until Oct. 31 to get vaccinated, though the Chapel Hill-Carrboro and Orange County school boards have yet to require student vaccinations.
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Kathryn Thomas is a Trinity junior and news editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.