School districts navigating Gov. Hochul’s push for staff to be vaccinated or tested weekly

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — With less than two weeks until the school year, Governor Kathy Hochul is pushing for teachers and staff at schools to be vaccinated or tested weekly. 

While the newly-sworn in governor says she can’t mandate vaccines herself, she is working with school boards and superintendents to figure out a plan.

Locally, the Rochester City School District is the only public school district requiring employees to be vaccinated or tested weekly this fall. If these requirements are put into place, many school districts would have to make some last minute changes. 

“We’ve been talking with the county about how do we do the testing weekly, we’ve been building protocols for that. We don’t have a plan in place, but we are anticipating that could happen. We’re preparing plans for that,” said Dr. Shawn Van Scoy, the Superintendent with the Gananda Central School District. 

In Gananda, 75% of employees are currently vaccinated. As of now, there’s no vaccine mandate in place.

“We know 25% of our staff have not been vaccinated for a variety of reasons, so I anticipate that there will still be people that if a mandate comes into place that will struggle with being vaccinated,” Van Scoy said. “But I do think that most will comply with the testing component of that because it’s not that invasive, particularly the new saliva tests that are out there.”

With just two weeks left until the start of the school year, officials say these last minute changes can be a little stressful. 

“Is it difficult? Yes. Is it frustrating? A little bit. But not as bad as it was probably a year ago or two years ago when we weren’t used to this,” Van Scoy said. “I think we’ve gotten to know the new normal where we have to prepare that things can change.”

As cases rise among kids and many are unvaccinated, local school districts are already requiring masks among staff and students.

“I think that based on the advice that we have received from local medical authorities, and what you see from the national and international, is that if we are practicing universal indoor masking, that is kind of our primary litigating factor and then the vaccinations would be the secondary if we are directed to do that,” said Aaron Johnson, the Superintendent of Schools at West Irondequoit. 

Johnson says he knows not all families or students are in favor of masking, but he thinks it’s necessary with our current situation. 

“If we can drive the local transmission rates down, then let’s have a conversation about if we can loosen up the masking mandates, but I think it makes sense to take a more measured, cautious approach right now,” Johnson said.

As schools wait for any additional guidance before schools reopen, officials ask parents to be patient. Many arguments have broken out at local Board of Education meetings over masking and vaccine talks, and Johnson says he doesn’t think that’s helpful. 

“I think that’s really doing a disservice to our young people, to our children, right. I think we have to rally around our children, respect and understand one another and we have to work together from there,” Johnson said.

Johnson encourages people to focus on hope. 

“We think about where we were a year ago, we couldn’t even entertain this conversation, we couldn’t even conceptualize all of our students coming back,” Johnson said. “We are able to welcome all of our students back for full in-person learning, five days a week… that’s something to celebrate.”

On Wednesday, the School Administrators Association of New York State released a statement saying they support Gov. Hochul’s plan for universal masking and push for vaccination and testing requirements for staff. 

“We hope that would be a statewide approach. Right now having our local school districts put in the position of making that a mandate, that’s very difficult for many communities,” said Dr. Cynthia Gallagher, the Director of Government Relations for the School Administrators Association of New York State. 

Gov. Hochul said she plans to release more school guidance in the coming days. 

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