5 new things to know about vaccines and today’s other COVID disruptions

Another state mandates staff vaccinations as lawmakers and superintendents battle over masks
By: | August 24, 2021

The full approval of the Pfizer vaccine has not ushered in a tidal wave of student or staff vaccine mandates in the nation’s public schools—not yet, at least.

However, the number of states requiring all school staff to get vaccinated grew while governors and lawmakers continue to battle with superintendents over mask mandates amidst scattered district closures due to staffing shortages and student outbreaks.

Here are the latest COVID K-12 developments:

1. New Jersey requires vaccines: School staff in New Jersey have until mid-October to get fully vaccinated, Gov. Phil Murphy ordered this week. Those who aren’t vaccinated will be tested once or twice a week.

“Scientific data shows that vaccination and testing requirements, coupled with strong masking policies, are the best tools for keeping our schools and communities safe for in-person activities,” Murphy said in a statement. “As the school year rapidly approaches, my administration is continuing to do all that we can to ensure a safe, full-time, in-person learning environment for our students, many of whom are not yet eligible for vaccination.”

Under the executive order, school administrators can impose more stringent vaccine or testing requirements.

2. Superintendent defying the state: The Charleston County School District’s board of trustees approved a mask mandate despite a law South Carolina’s legislature passed earlier this summer that bars schools from using state funds to require masks. The mandate, however, is not tied to any disciplinary measures.

“We cannot penalize any student who does not wear a face mask, and we will not deny access to their education even as we implore those students and their parents to consider masking as their responsibility to the greater good,” Board of Trustees Chair Eric Mack said in a statement.

In Oklahoma, which has also banned mask mandates, Hulbert Public Schools required face coverings when it reopened after a brief COVID closure.

3. Flordia mask battle continues: Battles over masks between superintendents and state leaders have been most intense in Florida. Despite Gov. Ron DeSantis’ threats to withhold funding from two districts that have mandated masks, more superintendents are moving to require or strengthen face coverings.

Alachua County Schools, one of the threatened districts, is sticking by its mandate, The Gainesville Sun reported.

Duval County Public Schools on Monday became the eighth district in the state to mandate masks, under a policy that goes into effect on Sept. 7, FirstCoastNews.com reported.

And on Sunday, Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna dropped the opt-out clause in the district’s mask mandate, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.

4. State laws put districts in a bind: The Lebanon Special School District in Tennessee will be completely closed, with no remote learning, until Aug. 27 due to student absences and staffing shortages. The district is resorting to its state-allotted “inclement weather/stockpile” to cover the days that schools are closed.

“According to new state guidelines for this school year, remote learning is not an option for school districts,” Lebanon’s administrators said on the district’s website.

Because Tennessee has made it easy for families to opt-out of mask mandates, the Lebanon district will be under “masks requested” status when administrators expect to reopen on Aug. 30.

“As we move to system-wide ‘mask requested,’ we are in strong need of participation so that we can stay in school once we return,” administrators said.

5. A short-lived victory? Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton posted this Monday: “Paxton suc­cess­ful­ly sues vac­cine-man­dat­ing school district.” Paxton’s lawsuit against San Antonio ISD, filed late last week, has apparently forced Superintendent Pedro Martinez to back down on his staff-wide vaccine mandate.

“The law states that ‘receiving a COVID-19 vaccine under an emergency use authorization is always voluntary in Texas and will never be mandated by the government.’ I will always fight to support the rule of law,” Paxton said.

That reasoning may be less solid since emergency use authorization became full authorization for the Pfizer vaccine on Monday.

The Cincinnati Enquirer also noted that Ohio’s law banning vaccinate mandates in schools only applied to emergency use authorizations.

And in Maine, a law that bans religious exemptions for school vaccinations goes into effect on Sept. 1. The law was approved pre-COVD, according to WABI.tv.