South Burlington school board member Alex McHenry pushed for a mandate requiring all school staff to be vaccinated and report vaccine status at a recent board meeting, but other board members are more inclined to delay.
“My recommendation is to wait,” Superintendent David Young told board members at a meeting Sept. 23. He suggested the board “hang tight” on instigating a vaccine requirement, noting school officials are watching state and federal guidance closely and should have clearer direction before the next board meeting in October.
“It’s not OK with me. I’m not comfortable waiting for somebody else in government to make a decision on this,” McHenry pushed back at the board meeting. “I want to have an enforceable mandate to staff that they be vaccinated.”
He also noted that Vermont-National Education Association, the state teachers’ union, is in favor of vaccine requirements. According to VTDigger, the union has stated they would support a mandate for school employees, although the details should be parsed out locally.
Chair Bridget Burkhardt and member Brian Minier both expressed support but hesitation at enacting a mandate without further guidance from state entities. For Burkhardt, the potential negative impact on prospective staff would be too great.
“I would love for everyone to be vaccinated, I think it’s a really good idea,” Burkhardt said, but added she is “inclined to wait.” With the district suffering from staffing shortages like many in the state, she wondered if enacting a mandate without clear state or federal direction would drive away new hires.
“Right now, understaffing is an issue we’re dealing with. It’s hampering things we need to do in the district,” Burkhardt said. “I think we should wait for guidance coming from the state.”
Minier echoed McHenry’s desire to act but said he’d also rather “keep listening to experts and wait.”
Young noted that the number of school staff signed up for surveillance testing is “significant,” and most folks in the district who remain unvaccinated are young children who do not yet qualify.
“Most everybody who’s been eligible for the vaccine that I’ve seen, I haven’t looked completely, but they’re all vaccinated,” Young said, though he suggested keeping the topic on the agenda for the next meeting should board members reconsider enacting a vaccine requirement.
Young did not specify how many staff in the district are vaccinated. District communications coordinator Corey Burdick said, to her knowledge, the district has not started tracking staff vaccinations, nor are staff required to report vaccine status.
The next school board meeting is set for Oct. 6.