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Vaccine mandate approved for staff at St. Paul Public Schools

A unanimous vote Friday morning made the district one of the first in Minnesota to mandate COVID-19 immunizations for faculty and staff.

ST PAUL, Minn. — The St. Paul Board of Education approved in unanimous vote Friday morning a requirement for all teachers and staff to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to regular testing. The measure makes the district among the first in the state to do so. 

The requirement will go into effect on Oct. 15. 

The proposal was first brought before the board earlier this week by Superintendent Dr. Joe Gothard. It requires the nearly 7,000 employees to either show proof of a COVID vaccine or submit to regular testing. 

In a recent survey of SPPS staff, 55% of respondents said they supported a district-wide mandate, and 37% said they do not. Eight percent said they're still not sure.

The teacher's union is supporting the move by St. Paul schools. Leah Vandassor, president of the St. Paul Federation of Educators, said the union has been encouraging the mandate for the past few weeks.

"Having as many adults vaccinated, as can be done safely, is the best option for keeping as many of our students safe as we can," Vandassor told KARE 11 on Tuesday.

Vandassor acknowledged that there are teachers who either can't get vaccinated or simply oppose getting it for various reasons, but even at a time when the district is facing a staffing shortage, she says she's not concerned about losing teachers.

"Those folks that want to not be vaccinated will still be able to work in St. Paul and just have to follow the other guidelines," Vandassor said. 

She said the union hopes to be able to negotiate with the district about what that would mean for SPPS in the coming year. Weekly testing would probably be part of that plan.

The state of Minnesota doesn't appear to be tracking school vaccine mandates, but according to Education Minnesota, Saint Paul is the third district to adopt a vaccine requirement. The other two include Red Lake Schools, and ISD 287, which serves about 1,000 high-needs kids in Hennepin County.

Earlier this summer, SPPS voted to require masking for everyone over the age of 2 inside district buildings, regardless of vaccination status.

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