By Laura Hayes, Senior Community Reporter
SHREWSBURY – Shrewsbury school employees will be required to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination by Dec. 1 following a vote by the School Committee on Oct. 20.
“Whatever levers that we have to pull to make our buildings safe, I think we’ve been trying diligently for the past 18 months to pull them. This is one that I think we now have in front of us,” said School Committee member Lynsey Heffernan during the committee’s Oct. 20 meeting.
Other districts, employers, and the state have enacted similar mandates, she noted.
“I agree with personal choice, and…if they want to choose whether or not to have a vaccination, that is their personal choice,” said Vice Chair Sandra Fryc.
Fryc noted that the district’s goal is to keep the schools open and students safe. Last year when the district worked with staff and union groups to reopen the schools, Fryc said, they repeatedly emphasized health and safety.
“This is the main tool that we will have to do that,” Fryc said.
The policy will remain in place for five years or until it is rescinded by the board.
The committee had voiced their support for such a policy during their Oct. 6 meeting.
During that meeting, Chair Jon Wensky said an anonymous poll of staff indicated that about 94 percent were fully vaccinated as of the start of the school year.
On Oct. 20, Wensky said that the implementation and impact of this policy must be bargained with staff associations.
“We’re working hard on processes for verifying staff vaccination,” said Executive Director of Human Resources Barb Malone.
The policy includes two potential categories for exemption from the mandate — medical and religious reasons.
The policy states that, if an exemption is granted, the staff member must provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test weekly as a condition of their employment.
This is a safety issue, said School Committee member Dale Magee.
“We have an obligation to our staff and to our students to make this environment as safe as possible,” Magee said.
He said he wanted the implementation of the policy to be as “stress free” and as “successful as possible.”
However, Magee said one of the issues they are fighting is misinformation and bad information used to make decisions. He advocated for providing the CDC’s list of medical exemptions.
A number of religions have said they don’t object to vaccinations, Magee said. Some have encouraged them, he noted.
“We would provide information for people and provide them with reassurance, with good information upfront before they get themselves in a position where they’re starting to insist on something that may be based on less than good information,” Magee said. “I would like to see that happen.”
Malone said the district could share information that is publicly available, though she expressed hesitancy about the district creating its own information.
She was reviewing advice on how to handle exemption requests.
Medical exemptions have to be discussed with requestors on an individual basis based on information from their medical team, she said.
“In terms of religion, people still have individual religious rights, even if their religious leaders have different views,” Malone said.
That will need to be navigated on a case-by-case basis, she said.