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Mahar School Committee to invite expert on vaccines to next meeting

  • Students leave Ralph C. Mahar Regional School in Orange. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 10/17/2021 10:11:13 AM

ORANGE — Mahar School Committee members plan to bring an infectious disease specialist to their Oct. 28 meeting to speak on the merits of COVID-19 vaccine mandates before potentially voting on the matter.

The committee held a virtual meeting last week to discuss a mandate for staffers, and members voted 8-1 to welcome an expert for an objective opinion. The committee later voted unanimously to hold that meeting virtually.

Shannon Johnson was the only member to vote against the first motion. Earlier in the meeting, she said mandates have nothing to do with educating students. She also said there is no data supporting the merit of a mandate.

“Nobody is presenting facts. Nobody is presenting solid, concrete reasons, other than keeping people safe,” Johnson said. “There needs to be some validity.”

Alyssa Magoffin, a mother who works as a human resources and payroll specialist for the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School District, read a prepared statement in which she advocated against a mandate. She prefaced her argument by recalling her family’s emphasis on exercise and nutrition when she was growing up and said she is concerned that the long-term effect of vaccines is unknown.

“There is science on both sides of this debate,” she said.

Stephen Hammond, a Mahar parent, asked what the school district will do when staffers resign due to a mandate. He also said the only preventative measures against the novel coronavirus are social distancing, frequent hand-washing and being mindful of symptoms.

Like Magoffin, JoEllen Harris chimed in to say the COVID-19 vaccine has not been used long enough to know the long-term effects.

“Coercion is not consent,” she said of a mandate.

Harris said the COVID-19 vaccine has caused rare incidences of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle), though the Canadian research study that linked the two was recently withdrawn due to a mathematical error. Harris also mentioned a teenager suffered a heart attack following his second Pfizer shot. Reports from various news outlets reference a case of this happening in Singapore, though the 16-year-old survived.

School Committee member Patrick Davis said he is fully vaccinated and will likely receive a booster shot, but warned a mandate opens up the school district to a tremendous amount of legal liability. He noted 83 percent of Mahar staffers are already vaccinated.

But committee Chair Peter Cross said the Mahar community is not its own stand-alone society — the vaccination rate in the area is lower than 83 percent. The state Department of Public Health reports that 72% of eligible people (ages 12 and up) in Franklin County are fully vaccinated, while 80% have received at least one dose. The rates are identical for Worcester County.

School Committee member Carla Halpern said she doubts she will change anyone’s mind, but “there is not science on both sides. You don’t have to take my word for it.” She then advocated for bringing in a medical professional for an expert opinion.

Fellow member Sharon Gilmore acknowledged vaccine refusal is a person’s right, but said educators should know they shed some rights when they take a job in the public sector. She elaborated that someone is legally allowed to wear a shirt with racist or homophobic language or imagery, though a school reserves the right to maintain a policy that prohibits offensive attire.

Patricia Smith, also a committee member, said she favors a mandate, believing that “vaccination is the only real pathway to preventing serious disease and death from COVID-19.”

Halpern made the motion to invite a medical professional, but amended the language to specify an infectious disease specialist after Johnson made the suggestion.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.

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