Poudre School District officials have repeatedly said the district will not require its staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
However, nearly 450 PSD staff members fall under a federal vaccination mandate set to take effect Feb. 1, and the district is in the early phases of determining how to enforce the requirement and track vaccine status among these staff.
PSD spokesperson Madeline Noblett told the Coloradoan on Tuesday that the district's legal counsel had reviewed last week's U.S. Supreme Court opinions regarding vaccine mandates and believes that neither one directly impacts the Head Start mandate they are working to comply with.
PSD receives federal funding to operate Head Start and Early Head Start programs, which are offered to families based on income and need and provide a range of services from prenatal parent education support to education and child care services.
Brett Larsen, PSD’s executive director of human resources, told the Board of Education on Jan. 11 that when they first learned of the requirement, they expected it to cover 146 staff who worked with early childhood programs.
But when more information was released about the requirement in November, the number of staff who fell under the mandate more than doubled.
“After Head Start recently published its long-awaited Interim Final Ruling on this issue, that number grew to 447 because it included staff who provided ‘direct services’ to kids in programs that receive Head Start funding,” said district spokesperson Alex Ballou.
Employees who provide direct services to kids in Head Start-funded programs range from teachers, counselors and principals to bus drivers and nurses, Ballou said.
Larsen told the Board of Education that about 400 of the staff members required to be vaccinated under the mandate had submitted their proof of vaccine while about 15 requested a medical exemption and 30 requested a religious exemption. The federal guidance does allow for vaccine exemptions for those reasons. Employees who receive an exemption will be required to do weekly testing.
In order to qualify for a religious exemption, one must have a “sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance” that is “more than a social, political, or personal preference, or on nonreligious concerns about the possible effects of the vaccine,” according to the exemption request form sent to employees.
There is no option for testing in lieu of getting the vaccine for people without approved exemptions, according to Head Start’s guidance.
The district's transportation department represented the largest group of staff who requested an exemption from the mandate, Ballou said.
Larsen explained to the board of education that the transportation team was working to ensure that any bus drivers who picked up children in programs funded by Head Start met the federal mandate, adding that this process will likely involve shifting bus routes among drivers.
“We don’t want to make people get vaccinated, we just need to know who is so we can assign routes,” Larsen told the board.
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Employees were told that "failure to receive an approved exemption or provide documentation of COVID-19 vaccination status ... could result in disciplinary action up to termination, being placed on unpaid administrative leave, or a transfer to a different position."
When asked about any significant pushback on the requirement from staff, district spokesperson Ballou said “PSD employees were great to work with and understood this is a federal decision.” She added that it isn’t necessarily an indication of vaccine mandates to come.
“At this time, we have not heard that there are efforts underway at the state or federal levels to require all K-12 school district employees to be vaccinated,” Ballou said.
Molly Bohannon covers education for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @molboha or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.
This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: Some PSD employees to be required to get COVID vaccine or testing