April 1, 2021

Most Schools Aren't Likely To Require Staff To Get A COVID-19 Vaccine. Here's Why

Original story from   IPBS-RJC

Article origination IPBS-RJC
School leaders in Indiana are unlikely to require staff to get a COVID-19 vaccine because of possible legal repercussions if an employee chooses not to get one.  - Jeanie Lindsay/IPB News

School leaders in Indiana are unlikely to require staff to get a COVID-19 vaccine because of possible legal repercussions if an employee chooses not to get one.

Jeanie Lindsay/IPB News

With COVID-19 vaccine eligibility opened up to all adult Hoosiers, school leaders are encouraging staff to get their shot, but it's unlikely schools will make COVID-19 vaccines a requirement for employees.

Some school leaders are allowing employees to decide, and have organized clinics to provide employees with the opportunity to get vaccinated or offered incentives for those who do.

Nick Brown, Merrillville Community School Corporation superintendent, said he's helped organize vaccination events for his teachers. But he won't track their vaccination status, and says they can decide whether or not to get their shot. 

"We will ask and try to get some sense, but we're not collecting it formally in any way and we're not requiring teachers or staff to get the vaccination shot – that will be their decision on what they think is best for them," Brown said.

He said instead, he'll offer informal surveys to get a general idea of how many teachers in the district have been vaccinated. 

But can schools require or mandate it? 

Lisa Tanselle, general counsel for the Indiana School Boards Association, said they could – in theory – but most probably won't. 

"You know practically speaking I think schools are just saying there's not a need to mandate it," she said.

Many teachers have been eager to get vaccinated, and pressed state officials to open up eligibility for them during the early stages of vaccine rollout. A vaccine mandate could also prompt a legal headache for schools if an employee chooses not to get one and their status as an employee is put at risk.

READ MORE: How Will Indiana Distribute COVID-19 Vaccines? Here's What You Need To Know

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A bill passed by lawmakers earlier this year also protects schools – and businesses – from being liable for the decisions they make regarding COVID-19 safety measures, unless the organization is found to be "grossly negligent."

When it comes to tracking who does or doesn't have a vaccine, Tanselle said school leaders considering monitoring staff vaccination status should proceed with caution.

"It's not something I would encourage that a school corporation do, because of that confidentiality of medical information," Tanselle said. "I don't know that there's the need for the employer to know, especially if we aren't mandating it."

All Hoosiers 16 and older are eligible to schedule vaccine appointments.

Contact reporter Jeanie at jlindsa@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @jeanjeanielindz.

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