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Portland Public Schools will recommend 6-month delay on vaccine requirement vote

In a statement, PPS cited falling COVID-19 cases and increasing vaccination rates as reasons the district supports pushing back a decision.

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland Public Schools (PPS) Board of Education will not vote on a possible COVID-19 vaccine requirement for students at its Nov. 16 board meeting, according to PPS officials. Instead, staff will recommend the board delay any action for at least six months. 

In a statement, PPS Chief of Staff Jonathan Garcia cited falling COVID-19 cases and increasing vaccination rates as reasons the district supports pushing back a decision on a student mandate. 

"When the PPS Board of Education began discussions with public health experts on Sept. 28, our community was at its highest peak of COVID-19 cases. As hospitals were being stretched thin, independent public and pediatric health experts recommended we consider all possible communitywide measures to limit the spread of COVID-19," Garcia's statement reads in part. "Today, the number of COVID-19 cases continues to fall. More than three in four students ages 12 to 17 in Multnomah County are now vaccinated, with younger children beginning to get their first vaccine. PPS is proud to have now kicked-off vaccine clinics at identified school sites, in partnership with local health providers. There has been a high degree of participation by families beginning to get their children ages 5 to 11 vaccinated. According to public health experts, Multnomah County is nearing that important marker of reaching herd immunity. As a learning organization, it is important that our decisions and actions reflect new knowledge, conditions, and insights."

School board member Julia Brim-Edwards tweeted her support for that move on Friday night. 

"Good call. Better to get it right than be first!" Brim-Edwards wrote. 

Although PPS did not cite parent opposition as a reason for the delay, the district had faced considerable pushback against the proposed policy. It ended its in-person Oct. 26 board meeting early and resumed discussion online after some people who'd shown up to oppose vaccine mandates refused to follow mask requirements

The board moved future meetings online through the month of November out of safety concerns. 

Many do support a vaccine mandate for students, including students themselves. Grant High School students staged a walkout in October in support of a mandate. 

PPS said if the board ever were to enact a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for students, the district would recommend a nonmedical exemption process that matches other immunizations required to enroll in public school, in addition to medical exemptions. 

Full statement from Jonathan Garcia, PPS chief of staff: 

“On Nov. 16, the School Board and staff will continue public discussions about the possibility of a student vaccine requirement. We do not expect the school board to vote or take action that evening. 

When the PPS Board of Education began discussions with public health experts on Sept. 28, our community was at its highest peak of COVID-19 cases. As hospitals were being stretched thin, independent public and pediatric health experts recommended we consider all possible communitywide measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.

We are proud to have been the first K-12 school district in the state of Oregon to announce vaccine requirements for all its staff. As school districts across the country began discussions about keeping students safe, the PPS Board of Education was interested in publicly discussing the merits and consequences of a possible vaccine requirement for Portland students. As history shows, vaccination requirements to attend schools have played a key role in the control of many preventable diseases.

We are grateful for the thoughtful and careful dialogue that our Directors have facilitated on this important and complex topic. We are grateful for the input and feedback we have received from students, families and staff.

Today, the number of COVID-19 cases continues to fall. More than three in four students ages 12 to 17, in Multnomah County are now vaccinated, with younger children beginning to get their first vaccine. PPS is proud to have now kicked-off vaccine clinics at identified school sites, in partnership with local health providers. There has been a high degree of participation by families beginning to get their children ages 5 to 11 vaccinated. According to public health experts, Multnomah County is nearing that important marker of reaching herd immunity.

As a learning organization, it is important that our decisions and actions reflect new knowledge, conditions, and insights. On Tues., Nov. 16, staff will be recommending to the school board to delay taking action on a vaccine requirement for at least six months.

From the beginning of this pandemic, we’ve seen our community take appropriate measures to protect themselves and each other from COVID-19. In Multnomah County, 82% of all people over the age of 18 have received at least one dose of the vaccine (more than 78% for ages 12 to 17) here in our region.

If the School Board decides to move forward with a vaccine requirement at PPS, we would also be recommending that PPS implement a nonmedical exemption process that is consistent with the Oregon Health Authority’s guidelines that are applied with other immunizations.

We look forward to the continued public discussion on Nov. 16.”

    

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