PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Two local school districts in Hampton and Norfolk have fleshed out plans to get all employees vaccinated against COVID-19.
Last month, OSHA issued a mandate that all employers with more than 100 workers enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy.
Right now, that mandate is suspended pending future litigation, but school districts are ready in case the mandate is upheld.
Norfolk Public Schools is still the only district in Hampton Roads that’s requiring teachers to get their COVID-19 shot. As of Wednesday night, Hampton City Schools also now has a plan in place in case OSHA’s vaccine mandate holds.
It’s been eight weeks since NPS began requiring all district staff to get vaccinated.
“This is new territory for us. We have never been in a position mid-year to talk about a mandate for employment,” said NPS Superintendent Sharon Byrdsong.
The district’s chief of human resources shared during Wednesday’s Norfolk School Board work session that 85% of staff is fully vaccinated and has submitted documentation. That’s just over 4,000 employees. About 13% of employees aren’t vaccinated, while 2% are partially vaccinated. 357 employees never responded to a vaccination survey that was sent out eight times.
Of the staff that reported they are unvaccinated, 8% percent are requesting a medical exemption and 22% are asking for a religious exemption. About 40%, or 240 people, said they’re willing to be tested for COVID-19 weekly, while 25% said they’d schedule to get a vaccine. Twenty-four people, or 4%, said they would not vaccinate, request an exemption, or be tested weekly. One percent didn’t respond to the survey.
“I think that individuals need to understand the seriousness of this. There’s new variants out there, this thing is with us and so we have to do what we need to do to create an environment that’s safe,” said Carlos Clanton, school board vice chair.
Now, district leaders are recommending disciplinary action for those who don’t respond and refuse to get tested weekly.
“I honestly think that they’re waiting to see what’s going to happen,” stated D. Timothy Billups, chief of human resources.
NPS is looking into a three-strike system for those who fail to comply. The first strike will result in a letter of concern, the second, suspension with pay and the third, termination of employment.
“We’re trying to do this for the safety of our students and staff, not to be punitive, but to be in the conscious mind of safety and preventative medicine,” said board member Noelle Gabriel.
Some board members felt the strike system was too lenient. It will be further discussed in a future meeting.
“I take this mandate very seriously and I feel the disciplinary action has to have teeth to it and the progressive disciplinary plan that’s being presented doesn’t have what I expect to go with the mandate,” said board member Tanya Bhasin.
Meanwhile in Hampton, the school board on Wednesday approved an employee vaccination plan that would be suspended if OSHA’s mandate falls through.
The plan approved is fairly basic, which was by design so they could go back and change it if need be. In essence, the plan says that if OSHA’s mandate holds, all employees must get vaccinated or be subject to weekly testing. It doesn’t say what would happen if they refuse, and no dates for implementation were given.
“This is like nailing Jell-O to a tree. It’s not easy trying to anticipate what could happen,” said Ann Cherry, Hampton School Board chair.
OSHA is expected to have a decision on the vaccine mandate later this month.