BISBEE — The Bisbee Unified School District discussed whether or not students, faculty and staff should be required to have COVID–19 vaccinations for the next school year during its meeting Tuesday.
School superintendent Tom Woody told board members Carol Loy, Ann Littrell, Brian Ott, Erin Rhodes and Chris Vertrees it was an issue many schools will be discussing in the coming months.
“Some staff may not want the vaccination,” Woody said. “So, if we do require it, we will have to provide some outs for those who don’t want to take the shots.”
However, the state Department of Education will determine how to approach it, he added.
Loy wanted no mandate and said she was not going to be inoculated because the vaccines had not gone through a thorough testing process to determine safety. She also suggested the county “can’t guarantee the second shot” required for immunity with the Moderna vaccine.
Ott pointed out people were required to get vaccinated before traveling overseas and had to have a vaccination card to prove it.
“It seems natural to step it up to the workplace,” Ott said. “By the next school year, we should have a mandate policy.”
Littrell thought they should follow the measles policy.
Arizona requires vaccinations for teachers and staff, unless exempted, for both types of measles — rubeola and rubella— and proof of vaccinations have to be provided.
New board member Vertrees said, “A large portion of people don’t trust the vaccine. We should keep it optional for the time being.”
Teachers and school staff are next on the list to get the vaccine since the county opened up Phase 1B of the vaccine plan, though currently the focus in on people 75 and older.
But, some may not want to get vaccinated for a number of reasons, said Woody.
Littrell said teachers in Tucson and Phoenix who received the inoculations were happy to get them.
Rhodes did not want to use the word “mandate” and preferred staff should be encouraged to get it. “We need to look at this closely.”
Ott suggested Woody look into how other districts are handling the vaccination policies.
By April, the board will need to make a decision before contracts for the next school year can be signed.
On winter sports, high school principal Darin Giltner said, “We’ve been following the guidelines from the beginning. I know the benefits of athletics — the motivation, the camaraderie of the students. But I’m not foolish enough to follow all these things and allow sports. I’m hoping things will open up for the spring sports season.”
Loy agreed saying, “We have to decide what’s best for the kids.”
Woody agreed there would be no winter sports as county and state positive cases of COVID-19 continue to rise.
In reports by the principals of Greenway Elementary School, Lowell Junior High School and Bisbee High School, teaching staff are improving their online classes and reaching out to students who are having difficulty. Some students are managing to meet certain benchmarks in reading and math and teachers are focusing on those who fell short. Most students are in remote learning mode with fewer coming to schools.
There is still some problems with attendance, according to Woody and the enrollment remains lower than last year.
The board approved a three–year contract and salary increase for Woody, which will increase two percent for the next year, no raise in the second year and a one percent raise in the third year. Woody currently makes $91,173. He was asked if he wanted the district to pick up the tab on his cell phone, but he declined.
“You’ve proven your worth to the district,” said Loy.
The board hopes the pandemic will slow down so they can safely meet face to face for the annual board retreat at Casa de San Pedro, a bed and breakfast in Hereford. They plan to meet the end of March or in early April.