All school employees must get vaccinated, Brown announces Thursday
Thursday, August 19, 2021
All school employees must be vaccinated, Gov. Kate Brown announced Thursday.
Although unions have not indicated they will resist, another mandate from Salem is likely to further enflame demands for “local control.” Brown said at a news conference that she is willing to "take the heat" to take actions to allow students to attend school full time and in person.
Brown’s announcement comes hard on the heels of school vaccination requirements in California and Washington. The Oregon rule applies to public and private K-12 schools, and the only likely exemptions will be for religious or medical reasons. California allows an exception if teachers get tested weekly, but Washington does not and Oregon likely won’t.
Brown will direct the Oregon Health Authority to use its authority to create a rule, requiring all teachers, support staff and volunteers to be vaccinated. School personnel will have until Oct. 18 or six weeks after a vaccine is federally approved, whichever comes later, to be fully vaccinated. It is not clear yet whether school board members will be included as “volunteers.” The rules are still being worked out, including penalties and who it applies to and when.
The Oregon Department of Education will be updating its “Ready Schools, Safe Learners Resiliency Framework.” OSBA is also working on information for schools.
The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an Indiana University case challenging a student vaccine mandate, suggesting schools can legally require COVID-19 vaccines. Other court rulings also support vaccine mandates for school employees.
Although teachers are as split on vaccinations as the communities they serve, Oregon unions haven’t spoken against mandates. Some superintendents fear they could lose teachers over this when there is already a teacher shortage.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said she supports vaccine mandates, noting that vaccine requirements in schools are not a new thing. California’s two largest teachers unions supported the state’s mandate. The Washington Education Association issued a statement supporting the vaccine mandate.
Portland Public Schools announced Wednesday it will require staff to be vaccinated by Sept. 1. The district is finalizing its requirements with its unions, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported, but the unions for teachers and clerical staff indicated support.
Early in the summer, the governor promised local leaders would be able to make decisions about COVID-19 precautions, and just last week, she said school boards and superintendents would be making the call on vaccinations.
The COVID-19 delta variant has changed everything. It is more contagious and causes more severe illnesses. It is also more likely to strike children. Oregon case counts have soared to new records. Nearly every hospital bed in the state is full, with the unvaccinated making up the bulk of the COVID-19 cases threatening to overflow the state’s capacity.
Brown and ODE Director Colt Gill have repeatedly said their overarching priority is full-time, in-person school for every Oregon school, and the rules might need to change to ensure that. Brown has already mandated masks in schools for all staff and students using her authority under the state emergency.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly advises a combination of masks and vaccinations. Masks reduce the transmission of disease-causing particles, protecting everyone around the mask wearer.
Parents have raised objections to masks, but most are not supported by science or data.
The vaccines have been shown to protect against catching COVID-19, and they reduce the disease’s severity in rare cases where a vaccinated individual gets sick. Vaccinated people can still pass on the disease, especially with the delta variant, hence the call for universal masking.
In January, Brown prioritized teachers for vaccinations to try to get students back in schools sooner. Teachers now must get vaccinated or be barred from the classroom. In Washington, teachers who refuse to get vaccinated could lose their jobs.