FCPS workers would support vaccine requirement, teachers’ union says

Updated at 7:50 p.m. on 8/19/2021A second FCPS employees’ union, the Fairfax Education Association, released a statement today (Thursday) saying that it would also back a vaccine mandate for all workers and urged the school system to extend its paid sick leave policy for staff who have to quarantine through Dec. 31.

Earlier: The union that represents Fairfax County Public Schools teachers and staff says it would back a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for employees if the school system decides to institute one.

Fairfax County Federation of Teachers leaders released a statement expressing their support for requiring staff to provide proof of vaccination or submit to weekly testing on Monday (Aug. 16) as FCPS staff returned to work in preparation for the start of the new school year on Aug. 23.

“Feedback from our members shows that there is strong support for a vaccine mandate among our membership,” the FCFT executive board said in its statement. “As we see the Delta variant spreading across the US and the growing case numbers among children, and knowing that our students under 12 are not eligible to be vaccinated until at least winter, we support all measures we can take to reduce the spread and protect these students.”

FCPS has emphasized the importance of staff and eligible students getting vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, including in a virtual town hall that Superintendent Scott Brabrand hosted with county health officials on Monday, but the district has stopped short of requiring shots.

Arlington Public Schools became the first Northern Virginia system to implement a vaccine mandate for its employees, announcing last week that the requirement will take effect on Aug. 30.

With COVID-19 cases surging again due to the infectious Delta variant, vaccination requirements are becoming increasingly commonplace among both public and private employers. Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Aug. 5 that state government workers must show proof that they are fully vaccinated or undergo weekly testing, encouraging localities and businesses to follow suit.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on July 27 to explore requiring vaccination or weekly testing when county government employees return to offices in September, though no official plan has been publicly announced yet.

While it doesn’t have specific data on which staff members are vaccinated, FCPS says 90% of its staff had registered to get vaccinated as of February, suggesting that the vaccination rate is higher now. School officials have not ruled out the possibility of making the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory in the future.

“At this present time, we are not mandating vaccinations for staff but we continue to consider all options that keep our staff and students safe,” an FCPS spokesperson said.

In addition to endorsing the idea of a vaccine requirement, the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers says its members “strongly support” FCPS’ universal mask policy, which has been expanded since it was first announced on July 28 to include all individuals in all indoor settings regardless of their vaccination status.

The union also called on FCPS to work with the Fairfax County Health Department to provide more on-site vaccine clinics and rapid testing sites, let employees participate in required staff meetings virtually, provide administrative leave for any staff member who has to quarantine due to a work-related COVID-19 exposure, and give staff at least one day to transition to virtual instruction if a class, school, or the district has to close.

Clear, consistent, and timely communication will also be key to ensuring that the return to five days of in-person learning is successful, the union said.

“While ever-changing COVID conditions contributed to the upheaval of last year, there are many places where strong leadership and clear communication could have reduced staff workload and stress, rather than add to it,” FCFT said. “It is imperative that FCPS leadership seek out feedback from staff members who work directly with students to utilize the expertise of those with firsthand experience on how policies and procedures work in classrooms, hallways, cafeterias, and buses.”

An FCPS spokesperson says the school system will finalize details on how staff leave will work for quarantine situations before the start of the school year, and it will offer staff a virtual option for meetings with parents.

“We continue to consider all requests from staff and families as we work together to ensure a smooth and safe school year,” FCPS said.

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