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Health, Science, Environment

St. Louis Public Schools to fire employees who skipped the COVID-19 vaccine

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Byron Clemens
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St. Louis Public Schools staff members and families attend a recent vaccination drive.

The St. Louis Public School District sent termination letters this week to some employees who did not comply with the district’s mandate that all staff members be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Friday.

In August, the Board of Education required school district employees to have completed their shots by Friday. That meant that employees who received two shots needed to get the first by Sept. 10.

For employees who made it clear that they wouldn’t get the vaccine, the paperwork process began earlier this week, said George Sells, the district’s director of communications. Terminations and suspensions go into effect on Friday.

“Our overarching, No. 1 objective and charge as a school system is to take care of children,” Sells said. “Parents need to be able to know that when their kids come to school they are being well-educated and that they are safe.”

Some staff members who did not want the shot have left the district to avoid the mandate, Sells said.

“We have had some people resign, we have had some people who have chosen to retire,” he said.

The district continues to review medical and religious exemption requests that were submitted by Sept. 24. Employees with approved exemptions will be tested twice a week for the virus.

On Aug. 24, the city’s Board of Education unanimously approved the mandate for the district’s 3,600 employees after the Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer vaccine. District officials previously said minimizing quarantines would be crucial to maintaining continuous in-person learning.

The union for St. Louis teachers, AFT Local 420, has supported the mandate from the start.

Union spokesperson Byron Clemens said 95% of members were fully vaccinated in time. Although some members have expressed hesitation or fear about the shot, the response to the mandate has been overwhelmingly positive, he said.

“There are a few people who have expressed reluctance,” Clemens said. “Some people have been scared.”

At a vaccine drive on Sunday, union President Ray Cummings “held the hand of one of our members as she was vaccinated on Sunday,” Clemens said. “It’s hard for people to do it, but we say it’s not too late to reach out and talk to us if you feel the need to do that.”

Sells said the district has given vaccine-hesitant employees ample opportunity to change their minds about getting the shot and worked with staff members on a case-by-case basis. He said that it’s likely the district will lose employees to the mandate, but that officials are working to address possible staff shortages at school buildings.

“We don’t want to lose a single person," Sells said. “But this policy is being put out there for a reason and it’s for safety, and for the safety of our students. That is the No. 1 responsibility we’ve got.”

Follow Niara on Twitter: @niaraalexandra

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