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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

CPS Board Considers Whether Staff Should Be Required To Get Vaccinated Against COVID-19

Courtesy of Cincinnati Public Schools
Lanier Hardy, a building engineer at John P. Parker School, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine Jan. 28, 2021.

Discussion surrounding a potential COVID-19 vaccine requirement for employees of Cincinnati Public Schools revolved around the potential legal risks involved with its implementation.

Pros and cons of a vaccine requirement were first brought up during a Policy and Equity Committee meeting May 27. Pros included providing a healthy environment and reducing quarantines; cons include possible issues with the union and possible loss of staff members.

Board Member Melanie Bates said any requirement would need more collaboration with the unions. She noted that while many teachers got vaccinated, other employees may not be.

"The paraprofessionals weren't and the lunch room employees weren't and I don't want there to be a division or discord and I don't want to risk losing employees," Bates said.

Members shared concerns about legal implications. CPS Legal Counsel Daniel Hoying said it can be legal with proper accommodations.

"The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) has issued guidance saying that provided you make accommodations for persons with disabilities, provided you make accommodations for persons with religious beliefs that would conflict with having the vaccine, under that lens, it could be legal," Hoying said.

Hoying said there aren't many other examples of school districts or employers making a COVID-19 vaccine a requirement.

"So it's not to say we couldn't be among the first, it's not to say that we wouldn't be fully defending this policy, but are there potential legal risks? Of course there are," Hoying said. "Any time you're first."

The policy will be submitted to the Board for approval June 28.

The district has partnered with multiple health agencies to get students ages 12 and up vaccinated. The first shots were administered from May 24-25, and the second dose for students will be administered next week.

COVID-19 impacted the district greatly throughout the academic year. Nearly 1,700 COVID-19 cases have been reported throughout CPS since May 2020, including more than 600 staff and 1,000 students. The pandemic also cost the district at least $42 million and resulted in nearly 5,000 students withdrawing from the district.

CPS has resolved to have classes in-person five days a week during the next academic year, including options for remote learning. At least 69% of staff members have received a COVID-19 vaccine.

Taye Settlement Finalized

The CPS Board of Education also approved a settlement agreement on Monday with the family of Gabriel Taye, an 8-year-old who took his own life as a result of bullying at Carson Elementary School in 2017.

As part of the settlement, CPS and a nurse employed by the city of Cincinnati have agreed to pay $3 million. The following non-economic terms are also included:

  1. Improved efforts to identify bullying by tracking repeat offenders, repeat victims and repeat locations where acts of bullying take place regardless of how the school or district becomes aware of the bullying;
  2. Improving the ability of school nurses to report suspected incidents of bullying within the district's reporting system;
  3. Intervening with those engaged in bullying by using restorative justice principles;
  4. Adopting the state model policy for deterring bullying;
  5. Training and supervising all staff to follow the reforms;
  6. Placing an appropriate memorial to Gabriel Taye at Carson School.

Two days before his death, Taye was allegedly attacked in a bathroom at the school, and left unconscious for over seven minutes. The suit alleges CPS withheld information regarding the attack, and when Taye returned to the school, he was again bullied in the same bathroom. He died later that same day.

Cory Sharber attended Murray State University majoring in journalism and political science and comes to Cincinnati Public Radio from NPR Member station WKMS.