The state of Delaware will require all public and private school personnel to be vaccinated for COVID-19 or be tested weekly.
The move is supported by the Delaware State Education Association, a union of teachers and those who work at schools. It’s urging members to be vaccinated.
The state requirement, which will be formally issued by emergency regulation, takes effect November 1, according to a terse press release issued Tuesday morning.
Those who must comply include educators, school staff, contractors and volunteers who work in K-12 public and private schools, according to the release from Gov. John Carney, the Delaware Division of Public Health and the Delaware Department of Education.
Part of the point is to keep schools open and kids in classrooms instead of learning virtually or bouncing from virtual to in-person classes and back, officials said during a Tuesday afternoon press conference.
Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Division of Public Health, said requiring teachers and workers to be vaccinated or tested regularly helps ensure the students won’t get COVID-19.
“We can protest them is the adults and other around them are,” she said. “In pediatrics, we call this cocooning, and it’s an important strategy to protect those who cannot be vaccinated.”
The Delaware State Education Association supports the decision and urges teachers to be vaccinated.
“The Delaware State Education Association’s goal is to keep our educators and students in school, while protecting their health and keeping them safe during these uncertain times,” said Stephanie Ingram, DSEA president, in a statement. “All scientific evidence shows us that this vaccine is effective and prevents the risk of transmission, while lessening the symptoms if the disease is transmitted. So, we urge our members to get vaccinated.
“We recognize that some educators still have concerns with the vaccine. For these members, the requirement of weekly testing is a reasonable alternative that will help provide a safe learning environment for all. While we know not everyone will agree with this decision, we believe that this allows us to safely keep children and educators in school while continuing to protect their health.”
Those who don’t cooperate with the vaccination or testing plan will be faced with a progressive discipline policy that will be determined by each district, Carney said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon. It will have several steps before termination, he and Secretary of Education Susan Bunting said.
Carney said he expected discipline to start with things like docking pay for some period of time, and then moving up a series of steps, partly to allow an employee to time to correct the situation.
He expects those school district discipline ladders to be similar to the ones that state employees face. State employees must be vaccinated by Sept. 30 or face weekly testing.
Carney and Bunting said they did not know how many teachers were vaccinated or were not, but that school districts may know.
Bunting pointed out that 19 charter schools and 11 districts were part of a $15 million partnership with Quidel Corp. that will provide comprehensive COVID-19 testing, processing and reporting in schools. Quidel’s rapid antigen tests can provide on-the-spot results in as little as 10 minutes, the state said when the deal was announced.
Responding to a reporter’s questions, Bunting said other districts may decide to join the program, but that would be a decision made locally rather than at the state level.
She also said that bus drivers need to be vaccinated. Many are contract workers, and that complicates the situation, but she said they should be vaccinated because they are on a bus with dozens of young children who cannot be.
The testing with Quidel is free, as it in dozens of places around Delaware, the officials pointed out.
Carney said he didn’t require educators to be vaccinated or face testing at the same time he did state employees because he had “to cultivate the ground among educators, to see what the districts themselves were willing to do.”
His order that students and school workers must be masked indoors became an issue of “significant diversity” among state school boards, Carney pointed out. Since then, he said, President Joe Biden had ordered employers of 100 or more to have workers vaccinated or tested weekly and ChristianaCare, St. Francis and Nemours health systems said their staffs had to be vaccinated or lose their jobs.
“We just felt it was the right thing to do,” he said.
Asked why he didn’t order all education personnel to be vaccinated, Carney said the state’s goal is to get as many people as possible vaccinated and to get them beyond hesitation and beyond unreasonableness.
“We’ll see how it goes,” he said.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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