School Board Considers ‘Vax or Test’ Proposal

Students+in+Lisa+Morgans+math+class+are+masked+and+three+feet+apart.

Brooklyn Bennett

Students in Lisa Morgan’s math class are masked and three feet apart.

The Shaker Heights School Board voted on Tuesday to mandate staff members to get vaccinated. Cincinnati Public Schools approved a rule on Sept. 13 requiring staff to get vaccinated or submit weekly tests. 

Beachwood may be next. 

Superintendent Dr. Bob Hardis presented a proposal to the School Board on Sept. 27 to mandate vaccination or weekly COVID-19 tests for all staff as well as BHS students over the age of 16 who are participating in sports or any extracurricular activity.

Hardis explained his rationale in a video sent to families on Sept. 24. 

“As our school community looks ahead to the winter months, we seek to avoid the challenges we faced a year ago, when our COVID cases increased, as did the number of quarantines,” he said in the video. “Too many students and staff missed too much school. We have a simple way to protect one another, to protect those who can not protect themselves and to keep students and staff in school and participating in exciting opportunities like extracurricular activities and sports.” 

Younger students will not be required to get vaccinated since the Food and Drug Administration has only approved the Pfizer vaccine for use in people 16 and over.

The BHS Student Council Executive Board voted unanimously in support of the issue on Sept. 27. 

“The goal is to prevent quarantines that require students to miss school because often in extracurriculars you are unable to keep the three feet distance and are masked as mandated by the state,” Student Council President Gregory Perryman said.  

Administrators from the Beachwood City School District met with representatives from the Beachwood Federation of Teachers (BFT), Beachwood Union of Support Staff (BUSS), and Beachwood Educational Interpreter’s Union (BEIU) on Oct 5, 2021 to discuss the vax or test proposal. 

As our school community looks ahead to the winter months, we seek to avoid the challenges we faced a year ago, when our COVID cases increased, as did the number of quarantines. Too many students and staff missed too much school. We have a simple way to protect one another, to protect those who can not protect themselves and to keep students and staff in school and participating in exciting opportunities like extracurricular activities and sports. ”

— Superintendent

BFT President Pam Ogilvy explained that union members generally support the proposal, but have some concerns.

“I think there are a lot of questions about the vax or test [proposal],” she said.

“It’s a medical decision and privacy is important,” Ogilvy added. “People want the process of testing to be as private as possible.” 

The School Board was scheduled to vote on the issue at their Oct. 11 meeting, but Hardis sent an email to staff on Oct. 8 stating that the vote would be delayed so that logistical and privacy details can be addressed.  

The question of vaccine mandates has become very political. Many states, including Ohio, have passed bans on schools and businesses or businesses from mandating vaccinations.

Ohio’s ban, included in House Bill 244, prohibits schools from mandating emergency use of vaccines not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. 

However, the FDA approved the Pfizer vaccine in August, providing schools with a legal path to requiring vaccines for those eligible to receive them. 

Meanwhile, the Biden Administration implemented its own vaccination mandate for large employers, federal workers and health care staff.

“Each employer will decide exactly what they want to do, but what we’re saying through the Department of Labor rule making process is a minimum of testing once a week or full vaccination,” a senior administration official told CNN.

Hardis views this requirement as an extension of protection from masks, shields and sanitary practices. He hopes that the additional protection provided by the vaccine will allow students and staff to stay in the school buildings and stay active in extracurriculars for the duration of the school year. 

Other Precautions in Place

With or without passage of the ‘vax or test’ proposal, the school district is continuing to take precautions to prevent the spread of the virus. 

Most teachers were vaccinated beginning last February, and many students have been vaccinated since then.

Students and staff are required to wear masks and are encouraged to stay three feet apart. 

“You have to look at each situation differently and use science and facts to [make decisions],”  Principal Paul Chase said. 

From Aug. 24, 2020 to Oct. 4, 2021, The Beachwood City Schools had 133 COVID-19 cases reported. In the first month of the 2021-2022 school year there were a total of 11 positive cases. 

The six foot distancing rule that was in place last year was changed to three when the CDC guidelines changed last spring. 

During lunches, students can take their masks off to eat, but are encouraged to maintain social distance. Seating is limited to three or four per table.  

High School students report that social distancing is more difficult in some classes where seats are not three feet apart.

Elementary students are not able to get vaccinated, so they are more at risk for spreading the virus. Beachwood’s elementary schools are maintaining three feet of social distance with student’s using shields at their tables during lunch for an extra layer of protection when their masks are off. 

Nurse Kelly Debeljak explained that masking and social distancing are more difficult for younger students. They are less likely to wear their masks correctly, need to be reminded to keep their masks properly covering their nose and mouth and are more likely to want to touch and hug teachers and friends. 

You have to look at each situation differently and use science and facts to [make decisions].”

— Principal Paul Chase

“It’s easier for the older kids,” Debeljak said. 

Quarantine rules are still in place. However, a student deemed to be in close contact with someone who tested positive for the virus may or may not need to be quarantined depending on vaccination status.

Chase explained the rule for unvaccinated students.

“Students who are unvaccinated will have to be quarantined for a maximum of ten days including school, sports and extracurriculars with the option to return on day eight if they have a confirmed negative COVID test done between days five to seven of quarantine,” he said. “If the student develops symptoms, they are strongly encouraged to contact their doctor and to get a COVID test.”

Debeljak explained that the quarantine rule is different for vaccinated students.

“Students who are vaccinated will be able to return to school as long as they are asymptomatic; however, they will not be able to participate in extracurricular activities including sports for three days and must have  a confirmed negative COVID test to return to their extra curricular activity or sport,” she said.

Whether quarantined or not, students will be asked to monitor themselves for symptoms. If any student or staff member develops symptoms, they are instructed to stay home, contact their doctor and to have a COVID test done.

“If the student becomes symptomatic in those three days or the COVID test is positive, they will have to be quarantined for ten days after proven positive,” Chase said. 

The school district is also able to keep the air clean by pumping fresh air into the buildings through the HVAC system that was upgraded last year. 

Additionally, teachers have access to a heavy disinfectant spray to keep classrooms clean. 

However, this school year staff are not required to use the disinfectant spray as they were to last year. Last school year, staff members were required to disinfect desks and chairs during the two-three minutes between class periods.

At publication, COVID protocols seem to be working. While there have been a few positive cases, there has been no outbreak in the high school.

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