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City Schools of Decatur looking into requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for staff, students


City Schools of Decatur looking into requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for staff, students

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Hannah Addis holds a vial of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Each vial contains 6 doses. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Decatur, GA — City Schools of Decatur Superintendent Maggie Fehrman gave an update on COVID-19 in the schools at the Aug. 10 School Board meeting. One question the district has been frequently asked is if it can require COVID-19 vaccinations for students and staff. Fehrman said this is something the district is looking into.

“We’re looking at this with our legal counsel to determine if this is something that City Schools of Decatur can do,” Fehrman said. “We do know that vaccinations are the first and best defense against COVID and we definitely want to do what we can as a school district to protect our students.”

She added that requiring vaccines goes beyond unobtrusive mitigation strategies, like wearing masks, as the district is talking about putting medication and shots in people’s arms. District staff is making sure they are following the best advice they can find regarding vaccination requirements.

“I think we address staff first as we go through that conversation and then we look at students,” Fehrman said.

Fehrman added she is not aware of a school district in Georgia that is requiring vaccinations.

Atlanta Public Schools is considering a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for its staff and students but has not made an official decision yet, according to 11 Alive.

School Board member Lewis Jones was supportive of requiring COVID-19 vaccinations.

“I’m glad we’re looking into it. I feel like we should have some discussion about it,” Jones said. “I thought I’d just put it out there that I think we should lean into it. I’m very much in favor of requiring vaccinations to the extent we can.”

He added that his family recently had an incident where one of his children was exposed to COVID-19, during an activity she participates in, as she was in close contact with an adult who tested positive for COVID-19. The adult is not vaccinated, he said.

“I was so angry that this irresponsible person exposed not only my daughter, but my entire extended family that they’d been in close contact, by not getting the vaccine just because they didn’t do it,” Jones said.

“It made me reflect that if I were a parent sending my kid to school and a teacher or staff member didn’t get the vaccine and exposed my child, I would be livid,” he added. “I really don’t think that’s fair. So I just wanted to put it out there that to the extent this is something that we find that we can do and that we can do in a way that’s fair, it’s something that I would support.”

City Schools of Decatur is hosting a COVID-19 vaccination event that is open to the community on Friday, Aug. 13, from 5 to 7 p.m. at Decatur High School, 310 N. McDonough Street.

Fehrman also explained that the district’s most recent COVID-19 information is located under the health and safety tab on the CSD website. On that tab is the COVID-19 report that the district plans to update weekly on Mondays by noon.

The report tracks positive COVID-19 cases that were on school grounds. So if a student showed symptoms while at school one day and tested positive for COVID-19, that student data would be added to the dashboard.

But if a student wasn’t feeling well on a Friday after going on a trip, for example, and tested positive on Saturday, that data would not be included in the district’s COVID-19 report. CSD is only tracking data for cases that happen in schools and is not tracking community COVID-19 data, Fehrman said.

The dashboard also shows students and staff who are quarantining. These are individuals who were deemed to be in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 would have to isolate and are not counted as part of the quarantine numbers.

The dashboard does show the number of people for each school and CSD building who have tested positive or are quarantining. That number represents the total number of people who have been taken out of CSD buildings due to COVID-19.

While the COVID-19 dashboard is updated weekly, schools receive information in real time, Fehrman said.

“So anytime there is a student that tests positive we let the whole school community know so at Westchester, that school knew immediately that there was a student who tested positive for COVID and that we were completing contact tracing so that they were informed of that,” Fehrman said. “So that’s the communication that happens in real time for a COVID-positive student.”

Westchester Elementary School reported one student who tested positive for COVID-19 last week. In total, CSD reported three staff members and seven students who tested positive for COVID-19 and 18 individuals are in quarantine, according to the COVID report.

City Schools of Decatur plans to begin surveillance testing soon, so students and staff will be tested weekly. Fehrman did not state when that testing would start.

“The Department for Health for Georgia is supporting this initiative for school districts, so we were able to use resources from the state, so we do not have to pay for these resources,” Fehrman said. “But it does take a lot of logistical planning and figuring out how do we do the surveillance testing.”

She also said that she has been asked if the district has a tipping point for when it would switch to full virtual learning. Fehrman said did not say if there is a tipping point. She explained that the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics, prioritizes in-person learning.

The agencies have said that when a school system has a multi-layered mitigation strategy, in-person learning is safe, she added.

“We have a very rigorous mitigation strategy, many, many layers, within our school system, so I feel like we will be able to continue offering in-person learning safely for our students and staff,” Fehrman said.

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