JACKSON, Mich. — Jackson Public Schools are turning to money to try to get more staff vaccinated against COVID-19.
The district board recently approved $920,302 to give a $1,000 stipend per staff member who has gotten at least 1 dose of the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson and Johnson vaccine.
“This is what we want to do to be able to address, make us feel safer in the workplace and make our peers feel safer in the workplace,” Superintendent Jeff Beal said.
“We recognize that COVID is here, it’s going to get in our buildings and we know that even the vaccine itself is not going to keep us all from getting COVID,” he continued. “What we do realize though is that it shortens the duration for which we’re sick, it makes the symptoms a lot less and so our employees felt like that was a responsible thing to do.”
All employees of Jackson Public Schools including staff that are permanently contracted through third party vendors in food service, transportation, custodial and security are eligible for the stipend.
The deadline is Wednesday, Dec. 1.
“While I don’t know that I’ll ever get to 100 percent participation we sit in the low 80s,” Beal said. “I’d like to get in to that 95 percent. Think about what that might mean for our staff. We see a return on investment where employees are not missing time, where employees don’t necessarily have to quarantine if they are in close contact. Our goal is to keep our teachers in front of our students and our students in front of the classroom where we feel they learn best.”
Beal says 82 percent of the district’s staff have been vaccinated against COVID-19. He says it is a little higher in some areas. Teachers are at a 87 percent vaccination rate. Administrators are at 90 percent.
“But some of those hourly employees were lower than that,” he said. “We want to make certain that we’re doing our part to take care of everybody.”
The stipend will be paid for through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. Congress assigned $13.2 billion to the Education Stabilization Fund through the CARES Act in March 2020.
Beal said that even though other vaccines are required for staff and students such as measles, mumps, and Hepatitis B using these funds in this manner is better than enforcing a vaccine mandate.
“I am against the heavy handed approach that says, ‘you must do this,’ Beal said. “I’m trying everything I could do to keep our employees working for Jackson Public Schools. If we get down the road and the state or the federal government says, ‘we’re going to implement a vaccine mandate’, JPS will be compliant with that.”
Most recent numbers show 38 students and eight staff have tested positive for COVID which is down significantly, according to Beal.
“I think we were as high as 80 students at one point in time. We were at 25 staff members at one point in time. For us to see that kind of ebb and flow and we put masks back on it and it slows down the spread here in our system anyway. We recognize that we’re only one part of the puzzle. The community at large has still got to take care of itself.”
Employees who present a valid note from a physician with a “clear medical reason” why one of the vaccination is not medically safe for them “shall be considered qualified for this one-time stipend,” according to the Board of Education.
It also states an employee claiming a religious exemption to participating in this vaccination will be considered qualified for the stipend. The Board of Education states the person must have a pattern of religious exemption to vaccination and must be consistent with established practices related to other vaccination. It states, “the established pattern must also be accompanied by a position statement or documentation from the organized religion against vaccines.”
The stipend will be on the second paycheck in December 2021.
COVID transmission in Jackson County has been trending upwards for nine weeks according to state health department data.
As of November 23 the seven-day average for test positivity is at 24.9 percent. The city of Jackson has seen an increase of 292 cumulative cases from one week ago. Surrounding townships including Blackman, Leoni and Summit have all had at least 100 new cumulative weekly cases.
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