KANSAS CITY, Mo. — After an almost 40 minute conversation, the Shawnee Mission School District Board of Education decided to press pause on conversations about requiring staff to be vaccinated for COVID-19 Monday night.
The board's main concern about potentially requiring staff to be fully vaccinated related to large staffing shortages.
The district is currently short 250 classified employees, or those who work at schools but aren't licensed, according to Superintendent Dr. Michelle Hubbard.
Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Dr. Michael Schumacher spoke to the board about the current percentages of staff who received the COVID-19 vaccine. He said about 81% of all staff were vaccinated.
When broken down between classified and contracted employees:
- Paras 55%
- Food Service 72%
- Custodians 58%
- Operations & Maintenance 52%
- Substitutes 25%
- DS Bus Line 12%
- Assisted 45%
If a vaccine requirement was implemented by the board, Dr. Schumacher said he would be concerned about losing some classified and contracted employees in places where the district is already spread thin.
“I would have a concern that we would potentially lose some of our staff,” Dr. Schumacher said.
Board member Jamie Borgman said that it was not the right time for the discussion about vaccination mandates.
"We can’t afford to lose our classified staff," Borgman said. "I think pushing this issue right now with the situation we are currently in is not in the best interest of all of our students."
Although the majority of the conversation revolved around issues of staffing, board member Jessica Hembree wanted the board to consider a hypothetical situation where the district was in a better position on staffing.
"I want to acknowledge, if we were in a better position on staffing, this would feel like a very different conversation," Hembree said. "Because at the end of the day, while none of us are epidemiologists, we’ve sure heard from a lot of them in the last year and half. And time and time and time again what we’ve heard is that one of the best things we can do for students to reduce their risk of Covid is to have a blanket of adults around them who are vaccinated."
Hembree also brought up the discussions at the beginning of the year on masking, which were often contentious.
"I know everyone up here does not want to have this mask fight every August," Hembree said. "And what we can do to get to that spot is just having more vaccination in our community and lower prevalence of Covid."
The board looked at two examples of Missouri school districts who had vaccine mandates: Kansas City, Missouri, Public Schools and St. Louis, Missouri, Public School District.
KCPS offered an opt-out for staff but will require weekly testing for unvaccinated individuals, while the St. Louis school district only offered medical or religious exemptions for staff.