School leaders are anxiously awaiting vaccine mandate rules, fearing staff refusals could sink reopening plans.
Gov. Kate Brown announced Thursday she was directing the Oregon Health Authority to require all school staff, volunteers and support workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
The OHA is expected to release temporary emergency order rules this week, but some unions are already requesting to open collective bargaining agreements.
OSBA Executive Director Jim Green is advising school leaders to be careful until the final rules appear.
“All we’re asking is that districts wait to see what the rules say and don’t sign any agreements or enter into any agreements with employee groups until we see them,” Green said. “Language in this instance is very important as to what the requirements are and where exceptions may be made.”
OSBA is working on language for schools to use in addition to its other COVID-19 resources.
The only expected exceptions to the vaccine requirements are for medical or religious reasons. OHA will be creating a standardized request form for school districts. It is not clear whether staff could lose their jobs or whether they would be able to collect unemployment. The rules will be enforced under the authority of OHA and Oregon Occupational Safety & Health, which can levy fines.
Many school districts, already short-staffed with the increased work demands of COVID-19 precautions, fear a significant number of hard-to-replace educators and classified staff will quit rather than get vaccinated.
Nancy Hungerford, whose Hungerford Law Firm advises school districts on collective bargaining matters, has offered some guidance to school leaders. She wrote schools will not be required to bargain over the requirements but they may be required to bargain over the rules’ impacts. Districts can unilaterally implement the rules immediately under “business necessity” and bargain later, she wrote.
It is not decided whether school board members will be included as “volunteers.” Although some board members oppose COVID-19 vaccinations, others say that school board members should be held to the same standards as other people in schools.
Brown said school personnel would have until Oct. 18 or six weeks after a vaccine is fully federally approved, whichever comes later, to be vaccinated.
It now looks like Oct. 18 will be the deadline. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration fully approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine Monday. More full vaccine approvals are likely on the way, blunting one of the fears against vaccinations.