With union support, St. Louis Public Schools requiring teachers, staff to get vaccinated against COVID-19

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District requiring all employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus by Oct. 15

By TIM ROWDEN
Managing Editor

St. Louis Public Schools will require all teachers, staff and volunteers to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by Oct. 15.

The mandate has the strong support of American Federation of Teachers Local 420, the union that represents teachers and staff in the district. Union spokesman Byron Clemens said it’s vital, with coronavirus cases rising in the area and students under the age of 12 unable to be vaccinated.

“We want to do our best to minimize the risk for everyone. For those children who aren’t eligible and for all of our staff and faculty, the delta variant has changed the game,” Clemens said.

Of the 2,600 SLPS staff members who responded to a recent survey, 88 percent of teachers and 86 percent of all staff said they were fully vaccinated. Vaccination rates in individual school buildings ranged from 90 percent to 50 percent, Adams said. However, some 800 employees did not complete the survey.

BEST WAY TO PROTECT STUDENTS TEACHERS AND STAFF
The Board of Education voted unanimously Aug. 24 to mandate employees receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We believe it’s the best way to protect students,” said Superintendent Kelvin Adams. “This is a high bar. Some districts are doing this in New York and Chicago as well because they know the seriousness of having students not engaged in educational opportunities.”

SLPS teachers and other staff will have to show proof of vaccination or risk a penalty of unpaid leave or termination. Any employees who are unable to be vaccinated due to disability, religious or medical reasons will be able to request an exemption from the mandate. Those with approved exemptions will be tested for the coronavirus every two weeks.

Adams said the mandate is necessary to protect students, teachers and staff. Two unvaccinated teachers in the district who had the coronavirus recently died, he said.

“This is an extra precaution to say we want you in front of students, we need you in front of students, but we also need you to take care of yourself,” Adams said.

Local 420 had also recommended the Board of Education require vaccines for all students who are eligible, but the district did not choose to involve students in the requirement.

With 3,400 employees, SLPS is one of the largest employers in the city. The vaccination requirement also applies to vendors in transportation, food services and special education as well as school volunteers.

The first case of COVID-19 in an SLPS student this semester was reported Aug. 24, one day after schools opened.

REQUIREMENTS IN OTHER SCHOOLS AND DISTRICTS
The board’s decision came on the same day that Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a lawsuit seeking to reverse mask mandates in public schools and one day after the Food and Drug Administration fully approved Pfizer’s vaccine.

SLPS joins the Ferguson-Florissant School District and Soulard Charter School in requiring staff vaccinations against COVID-19. School districts in Kansas City, Chicago and across California have similar mandates.

Students and staff at St. Louis University, Washington University, Webster University and the University of Illinois were also required to be vaccinated before returning to campuses this fall.

Leaders in Maplewood-Richmond Heights School District are reviewing staff vaccination percentages and expect to update their policy in the coming weeks, according to a recent letter from Superintendent Bonita Jamison.

IFT, IEA support vaccine mandate for Illinois schools

Springfield, IL – Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) President Dan Montgomery and Illinois Education Association (IEA) President Kathi Griffin are welcoming Governor J.B. Pritzker’s vaccine mandate announcement for Illinois educators and school staff.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, our unions have worked hard to protect students, teachers, staff, and communities by calling for safe working conditions and health mitigations to help stop the spread of COVID,” Montgomery and Griffin said in a joint statement.

“We know the best place for students to learn is in classrooms made safe through public health strategies that work. With the Delta variant surging, case numbers in Illinois on the rise, and more children now getting sick, the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) and the Illinois Education Association (IEA) support Governor Pritzker’s vaccine mandate for educators and staff in K-12 and higher education.

“The surge of COVID-19 cases in our state reminds us that this vaccine mandate is a public health imperative. To implement it properly, widespread education and access to vaccines will be essential. For members who cannot, or will not, get vaccinated, we are glad to see the governor has implemented weekly COVID testing.

“We are committed to helping our locals negotiate the terms and implementation of the vaccine mandate and other safety policies in school districts, colleges, and universities statewide.

“The vaccine mandate will help provide the greatest possible level of safety for those who learn and work in our schools, colleges, and institutions, especially as part of a layered approach that includes face masks, physical distancing, regular handwashing, adequate building ventilation, and consistent COVID testing of students, teachers, faculty, and staff.

“As educators, we understand the vital role we play in providing accurate, science-based information about COVID and vaccinations to combat myths and misinformation. Here is the truth: Vaccines work. Vaccines are safe. And vaccines save lives.”

 


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