State board not likely to require school vaccines

State authorities are not inclined at this time to advise school districts to require employee vaccination for COVID-19. 

The Missouri State Board of Education met on Tuesday via a phone conference with Charlie Shields of St. Joseph presiding. The board sets statewide advisory policy issued to about 550 local education agencies, such as the St. Joseph School District. For the most part, advisory policies are not mandatory.

Each district makes its own decisions, through elected school boards, about which recommendations to precisely follow and how. Based on the conversation from Tuesday, the SJSD or any other given district could decide on its own to require its staff to get vaccinated. Statewide arrangements are themselves still a work in progress, and any decisions are likely after those guidelines are finalized. 

“As we speak, plans are being developed for school nurses to be vaccinated (first), then all of the remaining educators and school staff members,” said Mallory McGowin, in comments to the board on Tuesday morning. “I want to make it really clear that there has not been any distinction between what ‘school staff members’ we’re talking about, or not.” 

McGowin, communications director for the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said school nurses/full-time medical staff are classified in Phase 1A of nationwide vaccination efforts. All other student-interacting school employees, regardless of their duties, are in Phase 1B.

Peter F. Herschend, a board member from Branson, Missouri, advocated for teachers to be prioritized in vaccine qualification.

“I think teachers should be at the top of that list, not the bottom,” he said. “We need them vaccinated so they can be in the classroom with the kids, so the kids can learn.” 

Nevertheless, at least for the present time, vaccination doesn’t look to be a silver bullet against avoiding COVID-19 stay-at-home periods. If a given person receives the prescribed two doses of vaccine and becomes resistant to infection, it is not concretely known yet if they are still capable of spreading the virus to others.

“At this time, they will still need to follow quarantine protocol, should they be exposed to a positive case,” McGowin said.