Burlington Public Schools employees will need to at least get their first dose of one of the COVID-19 vaccines before early October or risk facing losing their jobs.
On Tuesday evening, the Burlington School Committee voted unanimously to approve a policy mandating vaccines for all district employees. There are narrow exemptions, which must be documented, for medical and religious reasons.
An earlier version of the policy initially allowed employees who did not work directly with children to choose to get weekly testing instead of the vaccines but members of the committee said they thought it should apply to everyone.
“I would be in favor of us having a policy with all BPS employees being required to vaccinate,” Member Martha Simon said. “My top concern is the safety of our students and staff. Many of our students are not eligible to be vaccinated yet.”
After gathering that they were in agreement on making the mandate apply to all employees the committee then worked on figuring out the timing of the policy’s implementation. They landed on October 5 for at least the first dose of a vaccine because the district has a free vaccination clinic scheduled for October 4. They did add that employees are by no means required to get the vaccine from the school clinic but wanted to at least have one available before implementing the policy.
Under the policy anyone with a valid medical or religious exemption will be required to undergo weekly testing.
Committee Member Katherine Bond also pointed out that until two weeks after the second dose Pfizer and Moderna and after the only dose of Pfizer people are not classified as fully vaccinated. The committee decided to require weekly testing for all employees until they are fully vaccinated.
Committee Member Martha Simon said she understands this policy could be controversial but she believes it’s necessary.
“I don’t like to set things that are a condition of employment but we are in a public health pandemic and I think we should require all staff to be vaccinated,” she said.
Member Christine Monaco said she also believes it is necessary to have all staff vaccinated to protect the students, especially those not eligible for a vaccine.
“A little over a year ago my husband and I got covid,” she said. “I feel strongly about this because I don’t want any child who cannot be vaccinated to go through what I went through. The vaccine is fully approved, it’s safe and it’s free. We need to protect everyone who works in the schools and the kids.”
Finally, the committee and administration will have to work out “impact bargaining” with the teacher’s union in regards to the mandate. Attorney Darren Klein of KP Law, advising the committee, said he believes the negotiations can come after the policy is put in place.
“In my opinion, I expressed this to the union on similar issues – due to the public health crisis we are in, this is the type of exigent circumstance that would allow you to implement this policy as soon as possible and then would need to bargain after it’s implementation.