August 25, 2021
UPDATED AUG. 25: All 19,000 School District of Philadelphia employees will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19. This includes teachers and all other personnel who work in for the city's public school district, as well as contracted and service employees who work on district properties.
School board members unanimously passed the vaccine mandate during a special meeting Tuesday.
"It is the Board’s duty to protect our children, many of whom cannot get vaccinated, and being vaccinated is the best protection against the virus," board President Joyce S. Wilkerson said. "We believe that preventing COVID-19 infections through vaccines will lead to fewer missed school days, more in-person learning days, and ultimately, to improved student achievement."
The board did not set a deadline by which employees must receive their shots, and exemptions can be granted for "certain documented medical circumstances or sincerely held religious beliefs."
Superintendent William Hite said the district will begin negotiating with its five unions to develop "meaningful consequences" for employees who do not comply with the vaccine requirement policy.
Tuesday's board meeting on the vaccine mandate can be viewed on the school district's website.
With in-person classes set to resume in a week, the School District of Philadelphia is poised to require its 19,000 employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
The district's board of education is holding a special meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday to vote on a measure that would make vaccine shots mandatory for Philadelphia public school teachers and other district employees. The board's meeting and the members' vote can be streamed live on the school district's website.
The vaccination requirement is supported by Superintendent William Hite, board members and leaders of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, which represents more than 13,000 district teachers to counselors, secretaries, nurses and food service managers.
"With the delta variant surging, we cannot let our pandemic fatigue and desire to return to 'normal' allow us to collectively shirk our responsibility to keep our communities safe from this virus," PFT President Jerry Jordan said in support of a vaccine mandate. "The desire to ensure the safety of all of our young people and the educators who serve them should not be a partisan issue."
What remains to be seen is how and when the mandate will be implemented, if it is approved. The resolution drafted to create the mandate states an employee can request an exemption based on "certain documented medical circumstances or sincerely held religious beliefs."
"The thing we are trying to resolve right now is all of the information that individuals need in order to get the vaccine and whatever the consequences may be if, in fact, individuals choose not to," Hite said during an Aug. 19 meeting at district headquarters.
It's also unclear exactly how many school district employees are not vaccinated for the coronavirus. Information from the board estimates "several thousand employees" have not yet gotten their shots, but a district spokesperson said Tuesday afternoon that the district hasn't been keeping track of vaccination data.
"I don't anticipate pushback except from the individuals who may be anti-vaxers," Hite said previously. "We have anti-maskers; we have anti-testers, so it would be the same type of pushback that we're getting on things like mandating masks."
To accommodate employees who strongly oppose inoculation, the school district could follow the lead of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who on Monday announced that every teacher across the state must either be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 or be subjected to regular COVID-19 testing at least once or twice a week.
Hite, however, has said that the district already plans to test employees weekly during the academic year. Students will not be subjected to testing unless they experience symptoms or are a close contact of someone who tested positive.
Teachers and students must wear masks when the district resumes in-person classes on Aug. 31. Most of the district's 119,000-plus students have not learned inside a classroom in more than a year. Students under the age of 12 are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine, which health experts say increases protection against the virus and decreases chances of serious illness if infected.