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Richmond school leaders reverse course on vaccine mandate disciplinary action

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Posted at 5:58 AM, Nov 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-09 12:38:32-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Monday night, the Richmond School Board voted to halt disciplinary action against school employees who don't comply with their vaccine mandate — which required most employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct.1.

Orginally, those who did not get vaccinated and did not have a medical or religious exemption faced discipline up to and including loss of employment.

But thanks in part to an overwhelming number of vacancies that already plagued the district, they've reversed course.

If any teachers already lost pay due to the mandate, they will be reimbursed.

Out of nearly 100 vacancies, 29 have been resignations. The school board said they will reach out to those 29 staff members in hopes they'll stay on.

"All together, we have 96 teacher vacancies, and that includes 29 persons that resigned just in the past few days," Vice Chair Jonathan Young said. "So the 29 refers to those teachers, staff that just resigned in the last few days, but we had persons that resigned even prior to that, again, because of COVID vaccination, among other reasons."

The school board said they will reach out to those 29 staff members in hopes they'll stay on.

The motion to halt the disciplinary action did not pass unanimously, with some board members feeling like they weren't getting their questions answered.

"I also have a problem with this motion, because I believe eight of us on this board voted for the mandate, approved the mandate, and now we're changing our votes, because I'm unclear. And I feel like that's hugely unfair to all the teachers that and staff members that followed the mandate," said Elizabeth Doerr, who represents Richmond's 1st District. "So I'm just I guess I'm just confused as to why we all voted for this mandate. And now we're taking it back."

School Board Member Dawn Page, 8th District, said, "Now we're going back and a decision that we made. And again, you can ask anyone in any of our in our surrounding localities, they're dealing with the same thing. So why is Richmond unique or any different than any other locality?"

"I believe this body made that decision because we felt it was so critical that the staff and our buildings working with our children were fully vaccinated," said Superintendent Jason Kamras. "Certainly, if the board feels otherwise at this point, that is, of course the board's prerogative, I continue to maintain that doing everything we can to ensure all of our staff are vaccinated is a moral obligation that we have to our children."

The RPS vaccine mandate will remain in place, with weekly Covid-19 testing to those employees who do not wish to get vaccinated.