5 things schools need to know about Biden’s COVID vaccine or test mandate

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Public school employees in majority of states will need to be vaccinated or regularly tested for COVID-19 under new federal rule for workplaces with more than 100 employees.

Under the rule, released Thursday by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, millions of workers will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by January 4 or be tested for the virus every week. Employers who fail to comply could face penalties of as much as $ 14,000 per violation.

The move comes as states debate the balance between personal freedom and community health. Schools have been at the heart of this fight as they navigate divided public opinion on how to keep classrooms open and reduce the risk of viruses.

Here’s what schools need to know.

Where does the vaccine or test mandate apply to school employees?

The new rule, designed to increase the country’s overall immunization rate, applies to private employers nationwide and to public employers in 26 states and two territories that have state-level workplace safety plans. OSHA approved, according to a fact sheet. This includes public school districts, an agency spokesperson told Education Week when President Joe Biden announced plans for the rule in September.

The rule will also apply to private schools nationwide if they exceed the 100 employee threshold.

But it’s unclear how many teachers and school staff will be newly vaccinated as a result of the tenure. Public polls and information from teachers’ unions suggest that the vaccination rates of educators are already higher than those of the general public. Eighty-seven percent of teachers surveyed in July by the EdWeek Research Center said they had been vaccinated before.

In addition, the list of jurisdictions where public employees are covered by the rule includes 11 states and territories that have already moved on their own to require teachers to be vaccinated or offer a choice between vaccination and weekly testing, according to one. tracker compiled by Education Week. These jurisdictions are California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Washington, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia.

The testing requirement could meet resistance in some Republican-led states.

Four states with state-level OSHA plans – Arizona, Indiana, Iowa, and Tennessee – currently ban school districts from requiring teachers to be vaccinated, bans that can be overruled by the new rule federal.

OSHA made it clear Thursday that its rule should trump any conflicting state policy. The agency “intends to prejudge any national or local requirements that prohibit or limit an employer from requiring vaccination, face covering or testing,” she said in a backgrounder.

In Texas and Florida, where governors have taken the most aggressive stances against vaccination warrants and school precautions, workplaces are not covered by state plans, so the rule does not apply. will not apply to public schools.

More than two dozen Republican attorneys general have said they plan to legally challenge the administration’s authority to issue the rule, the Associated Press reported.

OSHA officials have said they have the authority to write the rules under federal law to protect employees from “imminent danger to health.”

How will schools apply the rule?

The rule requires employers, including schools and school districts in eligible states, to create and implement a plan to require and verify employee vaccinations.

Some education groups said state and federal mandates for COVID-19 precautions help take the pressure off of local leaders in the face of a divided public.

It was not clear how OSHA planned to enforce the rules, the Associated Press reported. A senior administration official said the agency would target employers if it received complaints. Some labor experts have expressed skepticism that federal regulators will be able to effectively monitor the implementation of such a broad rule that applies to millions of workers.

Before the Jan. 4 deadline, school employees in eligible states must receive two doses of Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines or one dose of Johnson & Johnson or undergo weekly testing.

Starting December 5, the rule will require covered employers to give employees paid time off to get vaccinated and recover from any side effects.

Workers will be able to request exemptions for medical or religious reasons.

How will school tests work for unvaccinated employees?

Employees who are not vaccinated should test negative at least once a week and wear face masks at work.

OSHA says employers are not required to pay for these tests unless they have already agreed to do so under collective agreements with groups like teachers’ unions. However, the Biden administration provided funding for school-based COVID-19 testing for teachers and students, and it said federal emergency aid could be used for these purposes.

The rule requires employees to “promptly notify” employers of a positive COVID-19 test and stay out of the workplace until they meet recommended criteria for returning to work.

How will the vaccine or test rule affect the existing concerns of the school workforce?

As Education Week reported, districts have faced a host of staffing issues in the pandemic era that have strained everything from student buses to school lunches.

More generally, some business groups and Republican politicians have expressed concern that the new requirements could exacerbate difficulties in recruiting and retaining employees by leading some hesitant employees to quit altogether.

The Biden administration says these fears are overblown. President Joe Biden promoted the policy by visiting employers who voluntarily implemented their own vaccine requirements before the federal rule. These private requirements have contributed to an adult vaccination rate of about 70 percent nationwide.

For example, Tyson Foods said 96 percent of its U.S. workforce had been fully vaccinated a week before the August deadline, the Associated Press reported.

But there was some resistance. Employees in some states have protested a separate federal vaccine rule that applies to federal contractors.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, praised the rule.

“These common sense actions will save thousands of lives and reduce hospital stays which are not only devastating for patients but also painful for the frontline workers responsible for their care,” she said in a statement. communicated.


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