The Tillamook School Board hosted a work session on Aug. 25 to hear from Tillamook School District staff regarding the vaccine mandate recently issued by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown.
Gov. Brown’s new vaccination mandate requires that all teachers, educators, support staff, and volunteers in K-12 schools be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The mandate requires those listed above to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 or six weeks after full FDA approval, whichever is later.
"Our kids need to be in the classroom full-time, five days a week, and we have to do everything we can to make that happen," said Brown. "While we are still learning about the Delta variant, we know from previous experience that when schools open with safety measures in place, the risk of transmission is low. That’s why I’ve directed the Oregon Health Authority to issue a rule requiring all teachers, educators, support staff, and volunteers in K-12 schools to be fully vaccinated."
Tillamook School District Superintendent Curt Shelley opened the workshop addressing the roughly 10 staff members meeting in-person and 70-plus staff joining via Zoom.
“We’re doing everything we can to navigate a vaccine mandate, while keeping everyone safe and protecting people,” Shelley said. “We have changes that are coming at us on a daily basis. I appreciate those who understand those changes.”
For the 2021-22 school year, the district hired 40 new teachers and several more additional employees.
One of the questions proposed to the board and Shelley was if the vaccine mandate would create more vacant positions.
“I believe we will have a number of people who will resign,” Shelley said. “I will guess that more classified staff will resign than certified staff. Certified staff [teachers] would need to change profession or go to another state [to avoid the mandate]. I have had a couple resignations already based around this mandate. We have a shortage of staff; whatever way we go, we will have challenges.”
Shelley noted that he knew of at least six school districts in Oregon state that have announced a delay in the start of school by a week.
“If we cannot stay open and the virus does not allow us to stay open, and we have to go to [distance learning], then that’s what we will do,” said Shelley. “If we have to postpone the opening of school, that is what we will do.”
Additional questions from staff members included medical and religious exemptions from the vaccine mandate.
In response, Shelley read from the Oregon Health Authority:
“Medical exceptions are defined as physical or mental impairment that prevent an individual from receiving a COVID-19 vaccination. These types of exceptions must be documented on an official OHA form and signed by a medical provider.
Religious exceptions are defined as sincerely held religious belief that prevent an individual from receiving a COVID-19 vaccination. These types of exceptions must also be documented on an official OHA form and include a statement describing the way in which the vaccination requirement conflicts with the religious observance, practice or belief of the individual.”
When asked if employees were going to receive additional leave time if they were quarantined or sick with COVID-19, Shelley replied: “COVID-19 leave ran out in December. The District is not required to provide Covid leave. Those on Covid-19 leave, currently, are taking sick leave. This can be negotiated with the District.”
Another staff member asked about data regarding the safety of the vaccines.
“I’m doing my best as a superintendent to be well-read…and you may even have different sources than I have. On either side that we are on, we can find data to support that. We must ask the questions: Is the data reliable and what is the source?”
Board Member Kris Lachenmeier responded to the questions: “My advice is to talk to your doctor. If I was making that choice, I would want to have that heart to heart with my doctor.”
When staff questions ended, Shelley concluded the meeting and opened the floor up to comments from the board.
“As a superintendent I always plan to follow all laws and mandates, but the board does have some local control. But, I don’t want to speak on their behalf.”
Board Chair Matt Petty closed the meeting with his thoughts.
“Unfortunately, we haven't even had the opportunity to have a conversation about this as a board,” Petty said. “At times like this as we move forward, there’s going to be a lot of emotion. There’s no doubt that this mandate will impact us all...in the coming weeks there will be some emotional highs and lows to do the best for our families. So, have empathy for each other in our choices…be open to diverse thoughts and opinions. Show grace…be kind, caring, and empathetic to each other. I say this, as this will be tough in the next couple weeks for some of your coworkers and the Board.”
Tillamook School District is slated to begin school Sept. 7 with masks required for all students, staff and volunteers.
The Tillamook School Board will meet for their next regularly scheduled meeting at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 13 in the District Office Board Room.