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Pioneer School Committee discusses COVID-19 testing plan, potential vaccination mandate

  • The Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee meets, with masks on, at the school on Aug. 19. Members of the committee voiced interest in pursuing a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for faculty and staff, and announced updates to testing programs for the district on Thursday. Staff File Photo/Zack DeLuca

Staff Writer
Published: 9/17/2021 4:38:52 PM

NORTHFIELD — Members of the Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee voiced interest in pursuing a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for faculty and staff, and announced updates to testing programs for the district on Thursday.

School Committee Vice Chair Michael Townsley read a notice from District Nurse Carla Simpson regarding COVID-19 testing. The notice stated the three-option testing plan is “more comprehensive” this year and will include a “test and stay” option for students who are identified as close contacts with a positive COVID-19 case but do not show symptoms. They will be tested and allowed to stay in school pending a positive test result.

In addition to symptomatic and routine pool testing, this option is now offered at no cost to the district and offers full support from a CIC Health program coordinator and an on-site team.

“The 2021-2022 testing program feels like a great fit for us and I’m confident we will have it up and running shortly,” Simpson wrote to the School Committee. “I know the pool testing alone will bring peace of mind to our faculty, students, district families and our community.”

According to Simpson’s statement, the district will use three testing options: symptomatic, pool and “test and stay.” Test kits should arrive within the week, and kits for use on student athletes under the “test and stay” method have also been ordered. Electronic links or paper forms for testing consent will be given to all district families.

“Our nurses have completed the training offered on the DESE (Department of Secondary and Elementary Education) COVID testing site,” Simpson wrote.

She said the district is also in the planning process to host a COVID-19 vaccine clinic through the Yankee Line Mobile Vaccination Unit. More information will be distributed as details become available.

After Simpson’s statement was read, School Committee member Alan Genovese referred to conversation from a Sept. 10 meeting, and asked if Interim Superintendent Patricia Kinsella had breached conversations with faculty unions regarding a potential vaccination mandate. Kinsella told School Committee members she had met with Pioneer Valley Regional Education Association (PVREA) union members who said they would agree to a vaccine mandate. Union President Claire Brennan said the local union is part of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, which endorses vaccinations.

“We go with what they endorse, so we would not have a problem with it,” Brennan said.

Kinsella said the district’s legal counsel has noted that President Joe Biden may direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue a vaccine mandate. She said her understanding is that Massachusetts law automatically follows OSHA law.

“So were the federal government to require vaccines in the workplace, Massachusetts would have no alternative but to require them,” Kinsella said. “We will keep working on our end, and our attorney is doing a terrific job reminding us of what is happening on the federal scene.”

While Kinsella had spoken with members of the PVREA, she said she still needs to hold similar conversations with members of the Pioneer Valley Association of Support Professionals (PVASP). Additionally, she intends to seek guidance from legal counsel on addressing individuals with service contracts who may not be under either union group.

Townsley requested the School Committee include an agenda item to discuss and potentially vote on a vaccination mandate at its next meeting on Oct. 14, at 7 p.m.

The School Committee also approved an agreement between the district and both unions pertaining to requirements for COVID-19 health safety guidance and mask wearing, including permitted mask breaks and the ability to remove masks while outdoors on school grounds.

Other schools across the state are considering implementing vaccination mandates for faculty, based on a DESE policy that states districts that can prove an 80 percent vaccination rate by Oct. 1 may be eligible to remove mask mandates. According to the latest data from the Department of Public Health, as of Sept. 14, 70 percent of eligible individuals who are 12 years old or older in Franklin County are fully vaccinated.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.


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