Shrewsbury School Committee expresses interest in mandating COVID-19 vaccine for staff

590

By Laura Hayes, Senior Community Reporter

Signs remind those entering Oak Middle School in Shrewsbury of the mask mandate in place due to COVID-19. (Photo/Jesse Kucewicz)

SHREWSBURY – Shrewsbury School Committee members voiced their support for a policy making COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for staff during an Oct. 6 meeting. 

“We’ve always said that the health and safety of our students and staff is and should be our priority,” said Chair Jon Wensky. 

Some School Committee members called a vaccination requirement “charged.”

“I respect an individual’s right to decide whether or not they want to be vaccinated,” said Vice Chair Sandra Fryc. “However, children are required by law to attend school.”

Last year, when Shrewsbury was returning to school during conversations with union groups, Fryc said they heard that health and safety was the number one concern about coming to school and the importance of mitigating risk.

“Now that we do have [a] vaccine, it is one of the main things that people can do to be healthy and safe in a school environment where students must go to school,” Fryc said.

Committee member Lynsey Heffernan has two children in the district who aren’t eligible to be vaccinated. They go to school every day. 

“But I’m even more concerned about the children who are medically vulnerable, who need to be in our building and need the services in our buildings,” Heffernan said.

Some unions statewide have called for a requirement, she said.

Wensky said many organizations, including public school districts, have implemented policies requiring mandatory COVID-19 vaccination. 

SPS hasn’t formally requested proof of vaccination status, he said. However, an anonymous poll of staff indicated that about 94 percent were fully vaccinated as of the start of the school year. 

At the Oct. 6 meeting, School Committee member Dale Magee said the number of COVID-19 cases is highest in the age group that includes parents. Plus, it’s rising in the child age group, he said. 

Town Manager Kevin Mizikar provided a separate breakdown of cases by age group at an Oct. 12 Board of Selectmen meeting.

His presentation indicated that 8.29 percent of the cases have been in children up to age nine and 14.95 percent of the cases have been in the 10 to 19 age group. 

“I do believe that the mandate represents us making our best effort to ensure a safe environment for those students,” Magee said.

No formal vote was taken on Oct. 6. Administrators said they would work on a document that the committee could vote on. The committee is scheduled to vote on it during their meeting Oct. 20. 

Members expressed an interest in offering exemptions for medical or religious reasons. Any policy would be subject to bargaining with various unions and associations on how it would be administered and any requirements.

We’re not talking about requiring vaccination to work in an office building or see a movie, said school committee member Jason Palitsch.

“We’re talking about a public school setting where we have always, in a variety of contexts, had a much higher standard for keeping everyone safe,” he said.