Carney mandates vaccine or testing for educators
WILMINGTON – After months of deferring to local school districts, Gov. John Carney announced Tuesday an impending mandate that educators across the state either be vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing.
The decision from the governor comes after districts statewide have already begun the fall semester and more than a month after he mandated that masks be worn by everyone over the age of 5 entering K-12 schools and childcare centers.
Carney said that he chose not to enact the vaccine-or-test mandate in August when he mandated masks, because his administration was “cultivating the ground among educators” and waiting to see what school districts would do. As mask and vaccination policies have caused controversy at school board meetings statewide, and President Joe Biden announced similar sweeping federal workforce and private employer mandates, the governor said they were now prepared to make that call.
The governor announced the latest directive along with the Delaware Division of Public Health and the Delaware Department of Education. It covers educators, school staff, contractors, and volunteers who work in K-12 public or private schools, effective Nov. 1.
“There’s no better way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and keep all Delaware children in their classrooms, than to get vaccinated,” Carney said in a statement announcing the mandate. “Our top priority has been to get all Delaware students back in school this fall. This new requirement will help keep them there and prevent regular disruptions to their learning. These vaccines are safe and extremely protective against COVID-19 infection and serious illness. I encourage all Delawareans to get your shot and help us finally put an end to this pandemic.”
It’s not entirely clear how many employees would be covered under the governor’s newest mandate, although the Delaware Department of Labor reported nearly 20,000 workers classified under K-12 education and libraries last year. That doesn’t cover office and support staff and volunteers who would likely add thousands to that total statewide.
State Education Secretary Susan Bunting said that her department does not have data on the current vaccination status of Delaware teachers but noted that about 16,000 school employees were vaccinated in a drive last spring.
How to offer testing would be left up to each school district to develop its own policy, but Bunting said that the state would allow rapid antigen test results and encouraged districts to partner on the process with companies like Quidel, which is working with 19 charter schools and 11 districts in the state to facilitate testing. Those educators who don’t cooperate with the mandate will face progressive discipline, culminating in termination, officials said.
Carney said he expected discipline to start with things like docking pay for some period of time, and then moving up a series of steps, partly to allow an employee to time to correct the situation.
The Delaware State Education Association, the union that represents thousands of teachers statewide, supported the governor’s mandate in a statement Tuesday.
“All scientific evidence shows us that this vaccine is effective and prevents the risk of transmission while lessening the symptoms if the disease is transmitted. So, we urge our members to get vaccinated,” DSEA President Stephanie Ingram said in a statement. “We recognize that some educators still have concerns with the vaccine. For these members, the requirement of weekly testing is a reasonable alternative that will help provide a safe learning environment for all. While we know not everyone will agree with this decision, we believe that this allows us to safely keep children and educators in school while continuing to protect their health.”
The First State was not first to mandate such a requirement of educators, with similar orders already in place in California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Washington.
In August, Carney made the same vaccinate-or-test mandate for state health care workers and state employees of the executive branch, effective Sept. 30.