What to Know
- The Philadelphia School Board voted for a resolution that would lead to a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for all employees and teachers in the Philadelphia School District.
- In a unanimous 7-0 vote Tuesday, the Board approved a resolution that would mandate the vaccination for employees and contractors who work in or on Philadelphia School District facilities and property.
- The mandate would be subject to potential exemptions for certain documented medical reasons and sincerely held religious beliefs.
The Philadelphia School Board approved a resolution to mandate a COVID-19 vaccination for all 20,000 Philadelphia School District employees.
In a unanimous 7-0 vote Tuesday, the Board approved a resolution that would direct Philadelphia School District Superintendent Dr. William Hite Jr. to develop and implement a mandatory vaccination plan that would require employees, contracted workers and service employees who work in District facilities and on District property to be fully vaccinated and to submit proof of vaccination status.
“It is the Board’s duty to protect our children, many of whom cannot get vaccinated, and being vaccinated is the best protection against the virus,” School Board President Joyce S. Wilkerson said. “We believe that preventing COVID-19 infections through vaccines will lead to fewer missed school days, more in-person learning days, and ultimately, to improved student achievement.”
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The mandate would be subject to potential exemptions for certain documented medical reasons and sincerely held religious beliefs.
“The Board is proposing this mandate to protect the health and safety of all school district students and staff,” a school board spokesperson wrote. “This mandate is being considered as Philadelphia is seeing a growing number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, most of which are driven by the Delta variant which is more transmissible and dangerous than earlier forms of the virus.”
The spokesperson also said they are following guidelines from both the CDC and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.
Details were still being worked out with the unions that represent teachers and other school employees, Dr. Hite told the board Tuesday, including negotiating possible discipline if teachers don't comply, developing incentives and creating a plausible deadline for when they have to be vaccinated.
"This union has been very clear from the start-- we support vaccines, and we have been urging every member to get vaccinated,” Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan wrote in a statement. “Further, we have expressed our support for a negotiated vaccine mandate. As an AFT Vice President, I helped craft our national position on vaccine mandates. But let us not forget that while a vaccine mandate is warranted and very important, nearly 90% of educators nationwide have been vaccinated.”
More details of the plan will be developed and shared soon with District staff and school communities.
The move comes amid other state and local mandates for teacher vaccinations in the last week including New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy's mandate Monday that teachers and school staff statewide be vaccinated by Oct. 18 or submit to regular testing. New York City Public Schools also issued a no-option vaccination mandate for the city's 148,000 public school teachers and staff Monday.
Philadelphia schools will re-open next week, and for many of the district's 120,000 students, it will be the first time they attend in-person classes since nearly 18 months ago when the city first announced COVID-19 lockdowns. The district has been preparing for the return of students on Aug. 31, announcing a mask mandate for staff and students earlier this summer and a weekly testing regimen for staff, as well as twice weekly testing for students in competitive sports or in activities like chorus.
Board members and student ambassadors asked if the students in a classroom will know if their teacher has been vaccinated. Acting Philadelphia Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole, who attended Tuesday's virtual School Board meeting, said that information would be protected under health privacy laws.
Bettigole said she's been working with the district over the last six to eight weeks preparing for schools to re-open. She told the board more children are currently hospitalized in Philadelphia with COVID-19, than have been at any other point in the pandemic — stressing the Delta Variant means younger people are getting infected.
Unlike New Jersey, the Philadelphia resolution as presented did not allow teachers to opt out of vaccination for other reasons. Hite said much of the alternative mitigation efforts allowed in the New Jersey mandate will already be done in Philadelphia as school starts.
The resolution passed Tuesday includes a note that the district will discuss developing incentives and work to provide easy access to the vaccine for teachers and staff and certain contract workers who will fall under the mandate.