Portland Public Schools has granted employees an extension of more than six weeks to report their vaccination status, officials said this week.
The district reported in mid-August that it had reached a deal with employee unions to require all employees to submit evidence of their vaccination status by Aug. 31, the day before students would report to campus.
But district spokeswoman Karen Werstein said by email Thursday that district officials still do not know the vaccine status of 12% of their workers, some 900 plus people. And she said the deadline for all workers to inform human resources of their status has been moved to Oct. 18, the same deadline set by the state for employees of all Oregon school districts.
Employees who are not fully vaccinated are supposed to submit to weekly testing in the meantime, Werstein noted. But she did not respond to questions about how many employees have undergone testing nor explain how district officials are enforcing that requirement among employees whose status they don’t know.
The district also did not respond to requests for information concerning the frequency of testing for staff who currently remain unvaccinated.
The district’s mid-August announcement gave parents and the public reassurance that no unvaccinated employees or contractors would be allowed on school campuses or to interact with children unless they submitted to weekly COVID-19 testing.
But when asked by The Oregonian/OregonLive multiple times this week whether district officials could guarantee that was the case, district officials did not respond. Districtwide, 21 employees have tested positive and been sent home to isolate. But it’s unclear if any of those workers exposed a student to the virus.
As is the case in school all Oregon school districts, all employees in Portland Public Schools must show proof of full vaccination by Oct. 18 or risk of losing their jobs. Only unvaccinated employees who receive a medical or religious exemption will be guaranteed continued employment.
Karen Werstein, the district’s public information officer, said via email that some of the employees who didn’t report their status may not currently be working.
“While we are working through thousands of pieces of data, we know that some of those who haven’t responded are not currently working because they are on leaves of absence or are coaches who are not coaching this season,” Werstein said.
Among the 88% of employees who have showed the district evidence of their vaccination status, 95% are fully vaccinated, Human Resources Director Sharon Reese told the school board.
Of the 5% who reported their status as unvaccinated, a little over 2% are either partially vaccinated or plan to get the shot, officials said. Another 2% are currently in the process of requesting religious exemptions. Less than one-half of 1% requested medical exemptions, they said. Close to 1% failed to complete the process of entering verifiable data, according to the district.
Those who cannot prove they are fully vaccinated or won an exemption approval will no longer be qualified to work with the district, according to school officials.
Students 12 and older are not required to be vaccinate to come on campus. Jackson Weinberg, a student representative who spoke at Tuesday’s board meeting, issues a call for such a mandate. He urged the district to follow in the steps of the Los Angeles Unified School District, which announced a student vaccine mandate last week.
“For such a mandate to be successful it would be important the district recognizes that students and families may be vaccine-hesitant for a number of reasons. As a district, we have a responsibility to acknowledge these concerns and inform families that school safety is our priority,” Weinberg said.
School officials stated later during the meeting that the topic of vaccination requirements for students will be discussed at the next school board meeting set for Sept. 28.