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Medford School District sees high vax compliance

More than 1,100 of 1,500+ employees are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, district says
Mail Tribune/file photo Of the 1,526 requests the Medford School District sent out for information from staff, including paid athletic coaches, 1,199 of the respondents said they were fully vaccinated or in series; 257 obtained an exemption; 29 failed to respond and three employees indicated they will not comply.

A majority of employees in the Medford School District became fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or were approved for an exemption from getting it before the governor’s vaccine mandate went into effect.

Of the 1,526 requests the district sent out for information from staff, including paid athletic coaches, 1,199 of the respondents said they were fully vaccinated or in series; 257 obtained an exemption; 29 failed to respond and three employees indicated they will not comply.

Roughly 76.6% of eligible employees have received the vaccine, while 64.3% of Jackson County’s 18 and older population has been vaccinated.

That is based on the latest — but not final — data the district released Friday, hours before the Monday, Oct. 18, deadline, as requested by the Mail Tribune.

The data is something Medford and all school districts in the state have been compiling for quite some time. Back in August, when Gov. Kate Brown initiated the mandate, Oregon’s Department of Education and the Oregon Health Authority told all schools about Oregon Administrative Rule (OAR) 333-019-1030. It states that no teachers, school staff, contractors or volunteers may participate in or even observe educational activities after that date if they have not met the requirements.

On Friday, Bret Champion, superintendent of the Medford School District, applauded the high number of employees who had complied with the mandate.

“Given the short time we had to get this done, it’s kind of remarkable,” he said.

Late Friday, the district added to its updated totals the fact that 31 staff are in the process of resubmitting documents or their proof of vaccination for technical reasons.

Since the vast majority of staff are in compliance with the mandate, students and families are not expected to notice a difference on or after Oct. 18, Leah Thompson, communications specialist for the Medford School District, wrote in an email to the newspaper.

Those who requested an exemption will submit to weekly testing or other safety measures, including wearing a N95 or K95 mask, Thompson wrote. They will be allowed to work around children as long as they follow safety precautions.

Employees who choose not to comply with the mandate “get due process and the opportunity to also discuss options with their union rep (if applicable),” according to Thompson. She noted that the process for dismissal of a teacher is different from classified employees and “we will follow the appropriate process.”

Champion said all administrators, including principals, were in compliance with the mandate. But through the months of educating employees on the governor’s order, “a handful” of district employees questioned the vaccine, he noted.

“That OAR is the law,” Champion said. “We also want to ensure we have every mitigating factor against COVID-19 as possible. This is absolutely one of those things. But we also can’t forget that we have a multi-layered approach as well and we’re not stopping that, either.”

That approach includes masking among students and staff, social distancing and installing a state-of-the-art HVAC system that provides purified air.

For those who chose not to comply, Champion said he could not speak to their motivation “or even if it’s purposeful.”

“I can speak to the over 1,500 who have responded and how appreciative I am for them getting on it, taking care of business and working through the system as we move this forward,” he said.

Some employees are not yet fully vaccinated and won’t be until after Oct. 18, the district said. That circumstance could apply to anyone who has COVID-19 now and has to wait to get a vaccine or they choose to get their shot right before the deadline, Champion said.

“Will they be let go? Absolutely not,” he said. “Life happens.”

He said district employees getting vaccines is just one step they can take in fighting the Rogue Valley’s battle against the pandemic.

“We saw what it did when people who needed surgeries were being canceled because our hospitals were overrun,” Champion said. “So we all absolutely need to do what we can to ensure that we mitigate COVID-19 as we can. Vaccination is absolutely the primary way.”