Education

 

Atkinson Elementary School teacher Tonya Moore was among the first teachers in Jefferson County to be vaccinated against COVID-19.Jess Clark | wfpl.org

Atkinson Elementary School teacher Tonya Moore was among the first teachers in Jefferson County to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Leaders in Jefferson County Public Schools are mulling a vaccine mandate for employees. JCPS superintendent Marty Pollio said he’s discussing a possible mandate with the Jefferson County Teachers Association (JCTA).

“We are currently in talks with our union partners on this. I think it is likely you will see a proposal in the near future,” he told reporters at a press conference Friday afternoon.

Pollio said the policy would likely require JCPS staffers to get the vaccine or agree to weekly testing. The district doesn’t have records of employees’ vaccination status but officials believe the majority are vaccinated. About 80% of the district’s 18,000 employees signed up for the shot during the state’s first phase of vaccinations in February.

Pollio said he believes the relatively high level of vaccinations among staff are “100 percent” why JCPS has been able to stay open.

“I do think it’s a major part in us being able to continue on, where many other counties have shut down,” he said.

Staffing shortages have forced dozens of other Kentucky districts to close. In many cases, districts shut down in-person learning because too many unvaccinated teachers became sick or had to quarantine. 

Since the start of the school year, JCPS has confirmed 250 cases of COVID-19 in staff members, and has had to quarantine an additional 185. Numbers are much higher for the student population, who are not all eligible for vaccination because of their age.

Since August 11, 1,903 students have tested positive and another 8,969 have had to quarantine. JCPS has about 96,000 students total.

Pollio said one concern he has about a vaccine mandate is that employees opposed to vaccination might resign rather than comply. The district is already short-staffed on many fronts.

“We can’t afford to lose staff—at all,” he said.

There appears to be union support for a vaccine mandate. JCTA board member Emilie McKiernan said on Twitter that the union board passed her motion to support a “vaccine/testing mandate” Thursday evening.

JCTA President Brent McKim provided the motion, which reads as follows:

“I move that JCTA support a staff vaccine mandate for JCPS employees with an option for individuals to choose to receive regular and ongoing COVID testing in lieu of being vaccinated.  COVID testing of unvaccinated staff should occur at minimum bi-weekly and no more than weekly. Free COVID tests and time to be tested should be provided by the district on-site with coverage for testing coordinated by the administration in the building.  Employees should also be allowed to arrange their own testing and provide the district with their testing results. The employee should be held harmless if the administration fails to provide testing or coverage for testing.”

Jefferson County Board of Education members also expressed interest in a vaccine mandate at their meeting Tuesday.

Pollio said a proposal could come to the board as early as September 14.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.