RICHMOND, Va. -- After an 8-1 vote decision Monday night by the Richmond School Board, teachers and staff will have to show proof of their COVID vaccination by Oct. 1st, or they'll lose their job.
Richmond Public Schools (RPS) became the first school district in Central Virginia, and one of the first in the Commonwealth, to implement a vaccine mandate for all employees.
The news brings mixed reactions from their faculty and staff.
“For me, I 100% support RPS's decision," said Philip Canady, who teaches at Fairfield Court Elementary School. “I think tough times require, you know, tougher things to happen. RPS has made it very easy for the staff to get the vaccine. So, it's not an issue of inconvenience. It's more so issue of safety.”
The mandate decision comes just weeks ahead of the return for teachers and students in RPS buildings for the first time in more than a year.
Meanwhile, the highly contagious delta variant continues to cause case counts to surge in Virginia.
Canady said the board made the right call. "We are in front of people's kids every day. And so, we have to protect not only ourselves, but we have to protect the kids that we serve."
Other teachers argued a different viewpoint at Monday night's meeting.
"We were promised that our jobs would not be out in jeopardy due to the vaccine not being FDA approved, and that we were going to hold off until then.. And I would like to know what happened to that option?," one teacher said during the public comments.
Vice chair of the school board, Jonathan Young, was the only board member to vote against the mandate, stating he believes it sends a bad message to teachers.
“Getting vaccinated is the right thing to do. But to adopt a mandate tells our teachers that we have no faith and confidence in their capability to do the right thing," Young said.
Here’s the exact text of the policy presented by Superintendent Jason Kamras to school board members:
Given rising infection rates across Virginia and here in Richmond and given the well-established safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines, the Administration recommends a vaccine mandate for all employees and other adults in our schools (contractors, partners, and volunteers) to protect the health and safety of all RPS students, staff, and families.
● All RPS employees will be required to submit proof of full vaccination to the Talent Office by October 1, 2021.
● Pending Board approval of the mandate, employees will receive an email from TalentEd Records with instructions on how to submit the documentation electronically. The Talent Office will provide one-on-one assistance to any employee who needs help uploading their documentation.
● Medical and religious exemptions will be granted on a case-by-case basis. To inquire about these exemptions, employees should email the Talent Office at firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyone granted an exemption will need to provide proof of a negative COVID test on a weekly basis.
● To assist employees who have not yet been vaccinated, RPS is working with the Virginia Department of Health to hold mobile vaccination events in August and September.
● Employees who do not meet the October 1 deadline (save for those who are granted an exemption) will be subject to progressive discipline, including loss of employment.
● Contractors, partners, and volunteers will receive information about complying with this mandate directly from the Talent Office.
Prior to the vote, Kamras told CBS 6 the medical and religious exemptions would be obtained by providing a signature from a doctor or religious leader.
“We feel it’s just critical, in the same way we require licensure to be on staff. To require this, again, our number one job is to keep everyone healthy and safe,” Kamras said.