This week, Orleans Parish School Board members are scheduled to consider a policy mandating that all NOLA Public Schools central office staff be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by September 30. The proposed policy would cover roughly 200 employees at the district’s headquarters.
Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. announced the proposal last week. It comes amid a concerning fourth surge of cases across Louisiana and the city due to the highly contagious delta variant.
The vast majority of New Orleans school employees — including teachers, school administrators and school support staffers — would not fall under the district’s proposed mandate. In the city’s all-charter system, the Orleans Parish School Board and the district’s central office staff authorize and regulate charter schools. But independent charter school boards, and the administrators they employ, are responsible for day-to-day operations, including hiring and personnel policies.
But a number of schools have already moved to implement their own vaccine mandates for staff.
Late last month, district high schools announced that they would require vaccines — or require weekly COVID testing — for their staff. And at least one elementary school charter management group, Crescent City Schools, announced a similar mandate for its staff early this summer.
Kate Mehok, the three-school charter group’s CEO, said it’s a policy her administration began thinking about last school year as more of the population became eligible for vaccines. Children 11 years old and younger, however, are still not eligible for any available vaccine.
“Last spring when we started thinking about how to open the school year safely we knew we’d be working with a large population of the unvaccinated,” Mehok said. “Because we run K-8 schools, a majority of our students would be unvaccinated.”
“What’s the way we can create the most safe environment for our students?” she said. “And that was to have the adults vaccinated.”
City schools have not issued a vaccine mandate for eligible students, other than high school students involved in extracurricular activities.
Though it’s not yet clear whether the delta COVID-19 variant leads to more severe complications for children than earlier strains of the virus, it is much more contagious. Health providers and public health authorities have reported an alarming increase in pediatric hospitalizations over the past month.
Several schools already have large numbers of students and staff quarantining due to potential exposures. A staffing shortage due to COVID exposures at one middle school recently forced the school to switch to remote instruction for two weeks.
Mehok said administrators informed the network’s 350 employees about the requirement in June and that by the end of August, her staff will be 99.9 percent vaccinated. She said less than five employees left because of the requirement.
“If you’re in the building and you work with kids on a regular basis then we are asking that you are vaccinated,” Mehok said, noting the policy applies to food service workers, janitors and bus drivers as well as teachers and administrators.
Lewis’ proposed policy for central office staff will go before the board at a committee meeting Tuesday. If members vote to recommend it, the full board will vote on it at Thursday’s business meeting.
The policy will require district staff to show proof of vaccinations by Sept. 30.
The district’s proposed policy states “employees may request religious, medical, or disability-based exemptions utilizing a form to be developed by the Department of Human Resources.” Without an exemption, there could be consequences for remaining unvaccinated.
“Failure to comply with the provisions of this policy shall be grounds for disciplinary action including but not limited to written reprimands, changes in job assignments, suspensions from work and termination,” the policy states.