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SLPS Requiring Teachers, Staff To Get COVID-19 Vaccine

SLPS science teachers Ninfa Matiase, LaJuana Stidmon and Jeremy Resmann practice an experiment Aug. 3, 2016 during training provided by the National Math and Science Initiative.
File photo / Camille Phillips
St. Louis Public Radio
SLPS teachers Ninfa Matiase, LaJuana Stidmon and Jeremy Resmann prepare school lessons in 2016. Alongside all other SLPS staff, they will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 beginning Oct. 15.

St. Louis Public Schools will require all teachers, staff and volunteers to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to mandate that employees receive the COVID-19 vaccine by Oct. 15.

“We believe it’s the best way to protect students,” said Superintendent Kelvin Adams. “This is a high bar. Some districts are doing this in New York and Chicago as well because they know the seriousness of having students not engaged in educational opportunities.”

The board’s decision came on the same day that Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a lawsuit seeking to reverse mask mandates in public schools and one day after the Food and Drug Administration fully approved Pfizer’s vaccine.

SLPS teachers and other staff will have to show proof of vaccination or risk a penalty of unpaid leave or termination. Any employees who are unable to be vaccinated due to disability, religious or medical reasons will be able to request an exemption from the mandate. Those with approved exemptions will be tested for the coronavirus every two weeks.

Adams said the mandate is necessary to protect not only students under the age of 12 who are unable to be vaccinated, but also to protect teachers from the virus. Two unvaccinated teachers in the district who had the coronavirus recently died, he said.

“This is an extra precaution to say we want you in front of students, we need you in front of students, but we also need you to take care of yourself,” Adams said.

A voluntary survey of district personnel showed that around 88% of teachers and 86% of all staff have already been vaccinated. However, 800 employees did not complete the survey.

The union that represents teachers and staff in the district, American Federation of Teachers Local 420, strongly supports the mandate. Byron Clemens, a spokesperson for the union, said it’s vital with coronavirus cases rising in the area.

“We want to do our best to minimize the risk for everyone. For those children who aren’t eligible and for all of our staff and faculty, the delta variant has changed the game,” Clemens said.

The union also recommended the Board of Education require vaccines for all students who are eligible for the shot, but the district did not choose to involve students in the requirement.

Ferguson-Florissant is the only other school district in the region with a vaccination mandate for school employees. It adopted the policy last week.

Follow Kendall on Twitter: @kcrawfish33