School Committee talks mandating weekly testing for unvaccinated staff

Oct 15, 2021

The School Committee discussed the possibility of mandating unvaccinated school employees to get tested each week at school — which would be at no cost to the district due to a state testing program.

The discussion on Oct. 14 followed a tense meeting on Sept. 23, when some employees voiced their opposition to a full vaccine mandate but said they would get tested regularly.

School Committee member Geoff Swett said that it’s known that a higher vaccination rate among staff would make students safer, but students are already fairly well protected both by the mask mandate and because children are less likely to get seriously ill from covid — although, he noted, there are tragic exceptions.

“There is increasing evidence that there is a direct correlation between age and hospitalization and death,” Swett said. “That made me think that the issue of protecting our students is less important than protecting our own staff. Frankly, I care about both.”

He also said that he has heard from reliable sources that it’s likely Governor Charlie Baker will soon put in place some statewide vaccine policy.

Swett also said that questions of public health are usually decided based on the greatest good for the greatest number — which can sometimes mean that those with minority opinions, opposed by science, can be overruled.

“Perhaps especially in a town that is so divided on this subject, it would be massively disruptive and divisive for the School Committee to mandate vaccinations,” Swett said. “The last thing I want to do is disrupt the educational environment by mandating something that for some percentage of the staff would be extraordinarily unpopular.”

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Andrea Schwamb said that she was told by the company providing in-school testing for students with parent approval that they would have the capacity to test the unvaccinated staff — which could be up to 50 percent. That testing would be paid for by the state. Swett said that while the schools haven’t mandated staff to share their vaccination status, those who haven’t voluntarily shown their proof of vaccination would need to be tested.

It is unclear whether this policy would need to be negotiated with unions.

Superintendent Dr. Kimberly Shaver-Hood gave an update on the number of teachers who have shown proof of vaccination to a school nurse:

-Wareham High School: 81 staff (65.8 percent)

-Wareham Middle School: 69 staff (66.9 percent)

-Minot Forest Elementary: 25 staff (41.6 percent)

-Decas Elementary: 38 staff (31.6)

The School Committee did not vote on a formalized policy.