The Cincinnati Public Schools board will vote Monday evening on whether to mandate all district employees and partners working in school buildings be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The board has discussed the possibility of a vaccine mandate at multiple meetings since June, though this will be the first time a resolution is on the table. If it passes, all district employees and co-located partners – including health partners, resource coordinators and school resource officers – would need to receive the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Oct. 1.
Religious or disability exemptions would be granted, according to the resolution.
"An employee’s claim for a religious exemption must stem from a deeply or sincerely held religious belief or practice. Political beliefs are not a sufficient enough reason to request an accommodation," the resolution reads.
If the resolution passes, employees who do not meet the requirement may be asked to resign and seek employment elsewhere. Board member Eve Bolton said five of the district's six union groups have been working on proposals in how to handle noncompliance with the policy.
"Another option, too, is to give them somewhat of an extended time" to get the COVID-19 vaccine, Bolton said. "But they would be on unpaid leave."
The board will also be selecting a search firm during Monday's meeting to assist with the hiring of a new superintendent.
Didn't Biden mandate COVID-19 vaccines last week?
President Joe Biden made an announcement Thursday mandating vaccine and testing requirements for large businesses with 100 or more employees. The mandate could affect more than 80 million workers across the country.
But teachers and other school staff are not of those 80 million workers covered by the mandate. Instead, Biden called on state leaders to implement vaccination requirements for school workers. But it doesn't look like that would happen any time soon in Ohio, as Gov. Mike DeWine has said he does not plan to impose a vaccine mandate. DeWine does continue to encourage eligible Ohioans to get the COVID-19 vaccine, however.
"I think the president made a mistake," DeWine said in a radio interview on Cincinnati station 700WLW Friday afternoon. "I don’t think he should’ve done this. It clouds the issue, and we’re going to now be talking about a federal mandate, which no one likes, instead of talking about, 'Look, here’s the science.' "
Could other districts follow suit?
If the resolution passes, Cincinnati will be the first local K-12 public school district to require staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Employers have broad powers to require workers to be vaccinated, according to court decisions and legal experts. A key step for the COVID-19 vaccine came after the Food and Drug Administration gave full approval to the Pfizer vaccine last month.
Most of the region's colleges and universities announced a vaccine requirement shortly after the Pfizer shot was approved by the FDA, including the University of Cincinnati, Miami University, Xavier University and Cincinnati State Technical and Community College.
But so far, it does not appear any other local K-12 schools are considering a COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Some district leaders say they haven't had conversations about a mandate because most of their staff is already vaccinated anyway.
"The small percentage that have shared that they are not vaccinated have made that decision based on specific and personal circumstances that creates some level of potential risk for them," Lockland School District superintendent Bob Longworth told The Enquirer. Longworth said 97% of the district's staff has been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Though the vaccine mandate conversation is restricted to CPS, all but one school district in Hamilton County have imposed mask mandates.
What about a vaccine mandate for kids?
Monday evening's resolution is for staff only, but a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for the district's students is also part of the conversation.
The Los Angeles Unified School District last week became the first in the nation among large school systems to require COVID-19 vaccines for eligible students. All students 12 and older in the district will need proof of vaccination by January in order to participate in in-person classes, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Cincinnati board member Mike Moroski said he plans to bring up a possible vaccine requirement for students 12 and older during Monday's board meeting.
"As policy chair, I would like to see our general counsel's office give a stab at drafting a vaccine requirement for our children that are eligible," Moroski said.
Monday's meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. and can be streamed online through the district's website.