Richmond School Board to vote on vaccine mandate for staff tonight

Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Richmond School Board is expected to pass a recommendation from Superintendent Jason Kamras that would mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for all RPS staff. If approved by the board on Monday night, employees would have to to get fully vaccinated by October 1.

It’s a mandate that Kamras said he believes will keep staff, students and families safe from COVID-19 this upcoming school year. He’s expected to make the recommendation at Monday’s school board meeting. However, the final decision lies with the board.

According to an RPS spokesperson, as of Sunday, about 60 percent of staff are fully vaccinated and about 70 percent are at least partially vaccinated. The mandate is expected to pass. Richmond would become one of the first school districts in the state to require teachers get the shots.

“I think a mandatory vaccine will help us ensure we’re healthy and able to teach, and will help reduce the risk of COVID from spreading,” said Stephen Straus, a 7th grade English teacher at River City Middle School. The teacher said he supports the possible mandate, “so that we can ensure that the community is safe and we can continue to teach.”

Under this recommendation, all RPS employees would have to show proof of vaccination to the Talent Office by Oct. 1. According to Kamras’ recommendation, failure to comply would result in disciplinary action — including possibly losing their job.

Straus said he’s spoken with some hesitant, unvaccinated educators who are worried to get the shots because it’s a new vaccine compared to other vaccines. “But the reality is that over 160 [million] Americans have been vaccinated already so there’s a large sample to support this being safe,” he told 8News.

Kamras said there will be exceptions to the mandate, including religious and medical. Those situations will be granted on a case-by-case basis and staff with exceptions would have to show negative COVID tests each week.

The superintendent says the requirement is needed to keep people staff and students safe and keep the buildings open. More than 250 students have been quarantined during summer school because of positive cases, according to Kamras.

This recommendation comes as coronavirus cases continue to climb across Virginia. According to data from the Virginia Department of Health, cases have climbed consistently since July, with new daily cases now exceeding 2,000.

The concern for the superintendent comes with Richmond’s vaccination rate, which is hovering around 50%.

In a release earlier this month, Kamras said that he understands some staff may be hesitant but he feels they have “a collective obligation as a school division to do everything humanly possible to protect the health and safety of our students and staff.”

In response earlier this month, School board member Jonathan Young released a statement saying he doesn’t support a mandate.

“I encourage everyone to get the shot but to adopt a big-brother government mandate constitutes a gross abuse of persons’ civil liberties,” Young said.

In an interview with 8News Monday, Young said he would like to see “100 percent of teachers vaccinated” but doesn’t want to mandate it. He said a mandate tells teachers the board doesn’t trust them to protect students on their own. “It’s really important to convey that I have a lot of faith in our teachers to do the right thing,” Young said. “If we really are trusting them to do the right thing, then I think we have to begin to act like that.”

Monday night’s school board meeting will begin at 6 p.m. There are some other notable topics on the agenda, including fall reopening plans and a George Wythe update.

For a look at the full recommendation, click here.

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