Staff who are not vaccinated must submit to regular testing.By Caroline Cummings

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The St. Paul school board on Friday unanimously approved a motion requiring all staff in the state’s second largest school district to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or get regularly tested for the virus.

“We have an obligation to do everything that we can to make sure that we are protecting our staff, students and community in opening our doors,” said Superintendent Joe Gothard before the vote on the policy, which takes effect Oct. 15.

Employees – which include staff, contractors, vendors, and visitors who come to school regularly, like volunteers – will be required to “acknowledge” vaccination in a reporting system that is still in development. The final resolution did not include original language requiring “proof” of vaccination, like showing a CDC vaccination card. General Counsel Chuck Long said the district, instead, is taking people “at their word.”

Those who opt not to disclose vaccination status or choose not get inoculated will have to get tested weekly, which officials said will be offered for staff on site in addition to community sites like a newly reopened site at Roy Wilkins Auditorium.

Board member Zuki Ellis welcomed the change to the resolution that inoculation is not mandated, citing concerns raised during an earlier public meeting.

“Whether that be health and whatever other reason that there may be—people may not be able to get this and this should not have an impact on their job in this district with students,” Ellisa said. “So I appreciate that we’re offering testing.”

Chelsea Heights Elementary principal Maura Brink was excited about the move ahead of kids returning to classrooms at her school next week—many of them are under 12 and not yet eligible for shots. She said the decision increases her confidence that schools can safely re-open for in-person learning.

“I see this as a mom and I see this as a principal that the safety of our children the important thing,” she said. “The board passing this is another tool to keep everybody safe at school.”

The motion by the school board has the support of the teachers’ union representing St. Paul educators and Education Minnesota, which represents teachers statewide. Plans for vaccine and testing requirements are handled district-by-district.

Chris Williams, a spokesman for Education Minnesota, said the group just started tracking vaccine policies and so far has found Red Lake Public Schools and Intermediate District 287, which serves students with special needs across the Twin Cities-metro, both have similar requirements.

Caroline Cummings