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Gov. Kemp says Decatur Schools vaccine mandate violates his order; CSD attorneys say otherwise

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Gov. Kemp says Decatur Schools vaccine mandate violates his order; CSD attorneys say otherwise

Gov. Brian Kemp speaks during a televised town hall on March 26. Screen shot taken from a live feed of the town hall event.

Decatur, GA — Gov. Brian Kemp told the Atlanta Journal Constitution he believes City Schools of Decatur’s COVID-19 vaccination policy violates his executive order prohibiting state agencies from implementing a “vaccine passport” program.

But the School Board’s attorneys already looked into this back in August and don’t agree with that interpretation.

CSD is requiring all staff to get their COVID-19 vaccine by Oct. 31 unless they get an exemption, and if they get one they have to consent to daily testing. The School Board is considering a similar mandate for students.

Per the AJC:

A spokesperson for Kemp referenced a May 25 executive order by the governor that prohibits “a state agency, provider of state services, or state property” from implementing a “Vaccine Passport Program.” The order also prohibits requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter the premises of or conduct business with a state agency, receive state services, enter state property, work for the state or “enjoy any other rights or privileges” from the state.

Kemp told the AJC CSD’s mandate “clearly violates” that order, which he says bans “vaccine mandates by public entities.”

But does it?

CSD’s attorneys don’t think so.

At a recent work session, Superintendent Maggie Fehrman said, “There’s no law that prevents us from requiring staff to be vaccinated.”

“I did reach out to our counsel and asked a couple of questions,” Fehrman said. “First, I asked Bob [Wilson] and Keri [Ware], can we require staff to get vaccinated? They provided a response. Then I said if we can’t require vaccination, can we require those staff who are unvaccinated to take a COVID test either daily or weekly?”

The counsel’s reasoning is outlined in a memo attached to that work session agenda.

“On a state level, the Governor’s Executive Order regarding ‘vaccine passports’ does not at this time explicitly apply to school systems,” the memo says.  “It is possible he could amend that order to apply on a local level, which would have an impact on CSD’s ability to require vaccinations.”

CSD is likely the first district in the state to have a vaccine mandate, and their position has already attracted media interest. Media outlets who don’t often frequent Decatur School Board meetings showed up at this week’s meeting expecting a vote on the student vaccine mandate. That vote likely will occur at the board’s next meeting in October.

So does Kemp plan to take any action against the school district?

The governor wouldn’t say, according to the AJC.

When Fehrman was asked if Kemp had threatened to take any action against the district, she said, “Not that I’m aware of.”

COVID-19 has not been paying attention to the debates over vaccine mandates.

The state recorded 166 COVID-19 deaths on Sept. 15. Feb. 12 was the deadliest COVID-19 day in Georgia so far. There were 186 deaths recorded that day. Last Wednesday, the seven-day moving average of deaths was 70.7 deaths per day. On Sept. 15, it was 96.3 deaths per day.

Most of these deaths could’ve been prevented with a vaccine. The CDC, which is near Decatur and has CSD parents on its staff, says the vaccines are highly effective at preventing severe illness and death.

“Currently authorized vaccines in the United States are highly effective at protecting vaccinated people against symptomatic and severe COVID-19,” the CDC says. “Fully vaccinated people are less likely to become infected and, if infected, to develop symptoms of COVID-19. They are at substantially reduced risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 compared with unvaccinated people.

“Infections in fully vaccinated people (breakthrough infections) happen in only a small proportion of people who are fully vaccinated, even with the Delta variant. Moreover, when these infections occur among vaccinated people, they tend to be mild. However, preliminary evidence suggests that fully vaccinated people who do become infected with the Delta variant can be infectious and can spread the virus to others.”

Reporter Zoe Seiler contributed to this story.

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