In Montgomery County, home to Maryland’s largest school system, more than 460 employees who have not reported their vaccination status are getting a letter of reprimand and losing a day’s pay, school district spokesman Chris Cram said.
Still, Montgomery has also relaxed its vaccine mandate: Now staff who have fulfilled their obligation to report their vaccination status can get tested weekly and forgo the shots. “There is progressive discipline in place if they do not test weekly,” he said.
Cram attributed the change to expanded student access to the vaccinations, the school system’s 95 percent employee vaccination rate and the difficulty of staff shortages across the sprawling district, which has almost 24,600 employees.
“It is important to assure we are fully staffed and meet our operational needs,” he said. “We will also continue to work with all of these [unvaccinated] employees to make sure they understand the importance of our mitigation strategies, including vaccination.
“It’s a balancing act,” he said.
Since the 2021-22 school year began, coronavirus vaccination requirements have varied among school systems in the region, as have deadlines to comply.
But in most systems, any staff member who is unvaccinated must provide a negative coronavirus test result weekly.
One exception is Loudoun County, which has suspended a weekly testing requirement for unvaccinated employees. Wayde Byard, spokesman for the school system, said the district planned to use a state testing program — but it had capacity issues.
“They could not handle the volume,” Byard said. If that changes, he said, “we may look at it, but as of now it can’t.” Loudoun’s employee vaccination rate is 88 percent.
“Right now the unvaccinated are just doing all the protocols we all have to do,” Byard said, pointing to masking practices and physical distancing.
By contrast, Prince George’s County Public Schools officials have terminated one employee for failing to comply with vaccination requirements, which include a testing option. They also have placed a number of employees on leave, spokeswoman Meghan Gebreselassie said.
It remains unclear how many employees are on leave because most cases are being handled at the school or office level, Gebreselassie said. The system follows a progressive discipline approach, with consequences ranging from a verbal conference to termination.
About 83 percent of staffers in Prince George’s County are vaccinated, including 88 percent of teachers. Both numbers are up seven percentage points since September.
Elsewhere in the region, an unspecified number of school system staff have been placed on leave in Arlington, spokesman Frank Bellavia said. The Arlington school system had mandated employees be vaccinated unless they obtained religious or medical exemptions.
Nearly 80 percent of the system’s 7,000 employees are fully vaccinated, including almost 100 percent of instructional staff, which encompasses roughly 3,000 teachers. Some employees are exempted, newly hired, on a leave or only partly vaccinated.
“For those who have not been vaccinated,” Bellavia said, “those employees are currently on leave pending separation from APS.”
In Fairfax County, home to Virginia’s largest school district, the vaccination requirement leaves open the option of weekly testing instead. Testing for unvaccinated staffers started last week, spokeswoman Helen Lloyd said.
Lloyd said data is not yet available on compliance rates, but for those who refuse testing, “there are multiple steps” the district can take. “This includes requiring a staff member to use their own leave until they have produced a negative test,” she said.
About 90 percent of Fairfax employees are vaccinated. As of mid-November, roughly 2,000 staffers — out of 25,000 — remain unvaccinated, Lloyd said.
In D.C., roughly 94 percent of public school system teachers and 83 percent of staff have submitted proof of vaccination as of Nov. 16, officials said.
As in some other districts, those who don’t comply will be subject to a tiered disciplinary process that includes a written warning and goes up to termination. As of Nov. 19, no teachers or staff were placed on leave in D.C. Public Schools.
“Our priority remains on ensuring all of our staff are in compliance and to continue to encourage our families to have any eligible students vaccinated,” D.C. Public Schools officials said in a statement. “While we are pleased at the progress to date, we know we have more to do.”
Numbers are similar at D.C. charter schools, with about 93 percent of teachers and staff vaccinated, City Administrator Kevin Donahue said last week at a news conference.
About 99 percent of employees at KIPP DC — the city’s largest charter network — were fully vaccinated against the coronavirus or had received a medical or religious exemption as of Monday, spokesman Adam Rupe said.
Of the network’s approximately 1,400 staff members, less than 10 were placed on unpaid leave for not providing proof of vaccination or obtaining an exemption, Rupe said. They have 30 days to become fully vaccinated, or they’ll be fired, Rupe said.
“All in all, KIPP DC is grateful to Mayor Bowser and city leaders for enacting this mandate,” Rupe said in an email, referring to D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D).
In Alexandria City Public Schools, acting chief of human resources Melanie Kay-Wyatt said data on compliance among the school system’s 2,600 employees will probably be available in coming weeks. Alexandria’s compliance deadline was Nov. 15.
“We have a very small percentage of staff that we will continue to support through this process,” she said.
Kay-Wyatt added that noncompliance “will be addressed as a personnel matter,” and that the school system’s human resources department is working individually with Alexandria staffers to meet vaccination and testing requirements. She said that no Alexandria employee has lost their job over the issue to date.
“We are encouraged by the response to the staff’s compliance with the vaccination and testing requirements,” Kay-Wyatt said.