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Ashland SD mulls COVID-19 student vax mandate

A vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)
Draft policy vetted by staff applies only to students in high-exposure settings, like athletics

The Ashland School Board recently was with presented a draft policy approved by legal counsel on a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for some students in certain settings, but whether it will be approved remains to be seen.

The discussion Oct. 25 was prompted after Superintendent Sam Bogdanove sent out a “vetted” policy on “voluntary athletics and high-risk activities” to board members.

He declined to share the draft in full with the newspaper, but said it does not mention specific activities in which vaccination would be required. Rather, it directs his office to do an analysis of the risk behind each.

Factors that would be considered include: location (outdoor or indoor), the number of participants, amount of contact within six feet, and whether students could perform the activity with a mask.

“We have not conducted that analysis yet,” Bogdanove wrote Friday in an email to the Mail Tribune. “If the policy is passed, we would likely work with activity leaders to decide where the requirement would be utilized.”

On Monday, he told the board about the feedback he’s received from school administration on the proposed policy. While it was mostly positive, there were questions, including whether it would be worth implementing in the spring, given most of those activities are held outdoors, where transmission of COVID-19 is low.

Bogdanove said there were also concerns over “capacity to monitor” the policy until it has an athletic director in place.

One board member mentioned there are a lot of activities in the spring, ranging from musical productions to non-athletic competitions, so maybe a COVID-19 vaccine mandate would be worthwhile.

Board member Victor Chang played devil’s advocate, saying he was generally in favor of the draft policy, but wondered whether it would be practical if implemented. If it only applied to ages 16 and older, that would not cover all the students participanting in activities, he said — and then the policy would not be effective until spring.

“Ideally, we would have done this two months ago in preparation for winter sports,” Chang said. “The cost benefit, it seems like, has been shrinking, and I’m not sure it’s worth all the ... extra administrative hassle, for what? We vaccinate some kids ... for relatively little benefit.”

Board Chair Eva Skuratowicz told the Mail Tribune in an email after the meeting that the board is “trying to figure out the best approach to a vaccine requirement,” and because policies typically have three reviews before voting, there probably won’t be action until early in 2022.

Bogdanove said he estimates the board would want to review the policy in November or December and vote in January to have it ready for spring sports.

Ashland High School co-student body president Luke Seeley, who circulated a petition to get the board to approve a coronavirus vaccine mandate for all eligible students, weighed in on the board’s most recent meeting when asked by the Mail Tribune. He felt board members appeared “hypocritical.”

“A partial mandate such as this one demonstrates a clear understanding of the effectiveness of vaccinations on the board’s part, and yet fails to require such a level of medical protection for all students,” Seeley wrote. “The proposed mandate for student-athletes is a step in the right direction, but we cannot comprehensively provide for the safety of our student body and greater community without a vaccine mandate for all students.”

The Ashland School Board meeting came the same week that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children 5-11. Anyone 12 and older can get the shot, but it isn’t fully approved for all age groups.