Northampton School Committee will pursue vaccine mandate for teachers and staff


Staff Writer
Published: 9/11/2021 7:02:06 AM

NORTHAMPTON — The School Committee voted Thursday night to enter into collective bargaining over requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for all public school employees.

Mayor David Narkewicz said the vaccine mandate needed the vote of the School Committee and the approval of the Northampton Association of School Employees, because it constitutes a change in working conditions under the labor contract. 

The mandate would become effective Oct. 22, and allow for medical and religious exemptions.

Under state regulations, masks are required at all schools until Oct. 1. After that date, if a district can demonstrate that 80% of eligible students and staff have received the vaccine, those who are vaccinated will be allowed to go without masks.

Northampton health officials report that 69% of eligible city residents are fully vaccinated.

School Committee member Emily Serafy-Cox of Ward 3 said that only the Massachusetts Department of Public Health can decide on a student vaccine mandate, not local officials.

At-large member Susan Voss said that officials in “several districts,” including the town of Lexington, have imposed limited student vaccine mandates for extracurricular activities and sports, and asked the School Committee to consider doing the same.

“That other districts have implemented (student mandates) does not necessarily mean that they’re lawful,” Narkewicz said. “Our legal counsel has looked at the Lexington policy and raised some concerns about it. … I would prefer that we explore it further and potentially bring it back to a future meeting.”

In response to the pandemic, the School Committee voted 8-1 to keep meeting remotely for the remainder of the year.

Roni Gold, an at-large member, voted no, saying he did not “see the rationale” for continuing remote meetings at a time when masked teachers are holding in-person classes.

“I don’t see why we, as a School Committee, can’t do that as well,” Gold said, advocating for a hybrid model that would allow for virtual public participation in an in-person meeting.

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