The anxiously awaited rules have appeared on the secretary of state’s website, but there has not been a public announcement. The Oregon Department of Education said complementary documents are being finalized and more information will be released Thursday, Aug. 26.
According to the new rules, schools cannot employ teachers, staff, contractors or volunteers in school-based programs after Oct. 18 unless they are fully vaccinated or have received a documented religious or medical exception. School board members, and other short-term visitors to schools, are not covered by the new rules.
The rules' details leave little wiggle room for school leaders worried about how they will offer in-person learning to all students if people opposed to vaccine mandates quit. Schools were already facing shortages of teachers, classified staff and bus drivers, made worse by quarantines and illnesses.
Gov. Kate Brown announced Aug. 19 that she was directing the Oregon Health Authority to create a rule, under its own authority, that all staff, contractors and volunteers in schools be vaccinated by Oct. 18 or six weeks after a vaccine was fully approved, whichever came later. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration fully approved the Pfizer vaccine Monday, making Oct. 18 the hard deadline in the rules.
“Fully vaccinated” means both doses of a two-dose vaccine or one dose of a single-dose vaccine and at least 14 days have passed since the last dose. For a two-dose vaccine, people would need to be vaccinated within approximately the next two weeks.
The rules also specify that schools can make their own more restrictive rules, including requiring earlier vaccinations or booster shots. Portland Public Schools staff are required to be vaccinated by Sept. 1. PPS employees who don’t meet the deadline can undergo regular testing until they are vaccinated.
The state rules do not have a testing exception. State officials said the state’s testing system is already being overwhelmed by the surge in cases from the more-contagious COVID-19 delta variant.
Schools that grant an exception must take “reasonable steps” to ensure unvaccinated personnel are protected from contracting or transmitting the disease. Schools must document vaccinations and exceptions.
Health officials have identified vaccines and masks as the two most important protective measures against COVID-19’s spread.
School leaders, already facing opposition over Brown’s school mask mandate, reported staff quitting soon after Brown announced the vaccine mandate. School districts implored their staffs to wait until they learned the details.