BRADFORD – The Orange East Supervisory Union Board has delayed the implementation of an employee’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate until after the current school year and added a test-out option for unvaccinated employees.
At an emergency meeting on Friday, the board voted 8-3 to repeal mandate it had just approved at an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday. That mandate would have taken effect on March 7 and only allowed religious or medical exceptions, not a test option.
On Friday, board member Charlie Buttrey joined forces with other board members from Thetford, Megan Snider and Donna Pluta to vote against the revocation of the mandate as adopted earlier in the week. But the three later joined eight other board members to unanimously support the revised mandate, which begins in July.
Chairman Angeline Alley abstained.
“That’s what it’s about working together and trying to reach a compromise,” Buttrey of Thetford said after Friday’s unanimous vote. “It’s not what I was hoping for (but) it strikes me that this meets in a middle ground.”
According to the requirement, around 800 staff, substitutes, coaches, volunteers and other temporary staff at the Association’s schools in Bradford, Newbury, Topsham and Thetford must either submit proof of vaccination, request medical or religious exemption or formally refuse vaccination to the OECD staff.
The details of the test, such as the type and frequency, will be up to OESU administrators, Alley said.
The entire OESU Board was present at Friday’s hour-long meeting, which began at 11 and was held via Zoom. In addition, about 150 community members also logged on.
“I’m fully vaccinated and I believe in vaccinations, but I believe the board is making a huge mistake in trying to put this issue to the vote and trying to impose this at the moment,” Bradford resident Bud Haas said in public. . comment part of the meeting held before the board vote. “The teachers and students have been through a lot of unrest. This is just adding fuel to the fire to try to put this into effect right now. “
Others expressed in remarks during the meeting and in emails to the board prior to the meeting frustration that employees who have worked hard during the pandemic to keep schools running may lose their jobs due to vaccination status.
South Ryegate, Vt., Resident Ron Phillips, said his wife has worked for OESU schools for 24 years with food service and has worked particularly hard over the past two years to prepare meals for school children.
“No one even really appreciates what she’s done,” he said. “I believe testing is an appropriate procedure.”
While most of those who spoke were against a mandate without a trial opportunity, Lance Mills, an instructor in building technology and residential energy at the River Bend Career and Technical Center, said he supported the original mandate and suspected that he was not alone.
“People who are happy with board decisions tend not to write letters,” he said.
The board convened Friday’s emergency meeting after it became clear that members of the local community – including members of the OESU board – were confused about the process at Tuesday’s meeting and had been unsure of the impact of the board’s action.
Board member Angela Colbeth of Bradford was among those questioning the process.
“When I raised my hand, I was under the impression that there would be more discussion,” Colbeth said during Friday’s meeting, where she voted for the mandate on Tuesday. Colbeth said she realized she was “not really sure what happened” after Tuesday’s meeting.
Colbeth said she is vaccinated and works for an institution that requires vaccination, “but my heart says we can not get other people to do something that we want them to do,” she said.
Nora Doyle-Burr can be contacted at [email protected] or 603-727-3213.