St. Paul Public Schools plans to drop its vaccinate-or-test policy for employees and no longer will require unvaccinated students and staff to stay home if they have close contact with someone infected with the coronavirus.
The district announced the change in quarantine protocols last week. It aligns with a reported change being considered by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The agency is said to be thinking about dropping its recommendation that unvaccinated students stay home for five days after an exposure; instead, those students could wear a mask at school and get tested after five days, staying home only if they are sick, CNN reported.
The move to drop the district’s coronavirus vaccination policy would require approval from the school board, which seemed unsure about that change during a presentation at Wednesday night’s board meeting.
St. Paul last September was among the first school districts in the state to adopt such a mandate. It said employees and contractors working on-site had to either affirm they have been vaccinated or test weekly for the coronavirus.
Becky Schmidt, the district’s student health care program manager, said 79 percent of workers reported being vaccinated, and 62 percent were also up-to-date on their recommended booster shots.
The policy helped the district “push the importance of vaccination,” she said, describing the compliance rate as “great.”
But Schmidt said no surrounding school districts still require employees to get the shot. And she noted that while the vaccines prevent serious illness, they have not been as effective as hoped in keeping people from spreading the disease.
“What once fit for 2021 has now evolved,” she said.
Schmidt also said the district lacked the capacity to execute the policy because it’s run short on tests.
“We’ve received some pushback from bargaining groups, especially when we have not had test kits from the state,” she said.
Although the district said last year that employees who didn’t comply could be disciplined, that seems to have been an empty threat. Jim Vollmer of the human resources department said Wednesday he wouldn’t recommend disciplining employees as it would have taken “quite a bit of manpower.”
The school board, with three of its seven members absent, briefly discussed dropping the policy on Wednesday. They’ll vote at a future meeting.
“My worry is if we don’t” keep the policy in place, board member Uriah Ward said, “that will result in lower vaccination rates.”
Ward asked about the implications of modifying the policy by removing the testing component.
Board member Jim Vue said that before voting to rescind the policy, he’ll want more information about what other local governments have done.
Jackie Turner, chief of administration and operations, warned that keeping the policy in place would mean jeopardizing $6 million in contracts with numerous organizations that want to work in the schools.
“Likely those agencies don’t have that requirement” and would be unable to sign contracts in the coming weeks, she said.
Ramsey County’s vaccine requirement remains in effect, but the city of St. Paul paused its policy after a judge ruled it should have been negotiated with its employee unions.