UPPER MERION TOWNSHIP, Pa. (CBS) — In a move that may be a first of its kind in the Philadelphia area, the Upper Merion School District voted unanimously to approve a plan requiring that all teachers and staff must get vaccinated against COVID-19 or get routinely tested for the virus.
This comes as the district prepares to welcome back its nearly 5,000 students in the fall.READ MORE: President Biden Approves Disaster Funding For Two More Pennsylvania Counties
“We are not mandating vaccinations on the part of our professional and nonprofessional staff. We are creating a different situation based on the vaccination status of our staff,” Jeffrey Sultanik, Upper Merion School District’s lawyer, said.
Board members stopped short of calling the action a mandate, but teachers and staff would have to show proof of vaccination. If not, they will have to submit to COVID-19 testing twice a week and wear a mask.
“We believe that this particular resolution will help us increase the health and safety of the students in Upper Merion School District,” Sultanik said.
The bold move could set a precedent for other school districts grappling with ways to safely bring students and staff back into in-person learning in the fall amid rising COVID cases among the unvaccinated.
“We believe that we want to encourage as many individuals to get the vaccinations so we can have as smooth a 2021-22 school year as possible,” Upper Merion School District President Gary Ledebur said.READ MORE: 'My House Was Targeted': Philadelphia Anti-Violence Activist Speaks Out After Home Firebombed
Some parents at the Upper Merion school board meeting on Monday quickly voiced their concern about the vaccine requirement.
“You’re saying it’s not a mandate that the employees wear a mask but isn’t it essentially a mandate? Because then you’re the people who aren’t going to get vaccinated are going to pretty much be ostracized,” one parent said.
The measure to require vaccinations was supported by the union representing the district’s teachers
Meantime, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association has reportedly advised boards that employers can legally mandate vaccination, but they “must recognize and comply with their duty to reasonably accommodate an employee’s disability or sincerely held religious belief.”
As districts across the Delaware Valley debate how to safely get students back into the classroom, Philadelphia schools are already requiring masks. Superintendent William Hite said, “Everyone in our schools will be required to wear masks or other approved facial coverings while they are indoors whether they are vaccinated or unvaccinated.”
The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers tells CBS3 they support the city’s mask and testing policy. They say they would like the policy to be expanded to students.MORE NEWS: Fourth Stimulus Check: Is Another Relief Payment Coming?
CBS3’s Natasha Brown and Alicia Roberts contributed to this report.