Updated September 6, 2021 - 8:15 am
The Clark County School District has not yet scheduled negotiations with unions on a mandate requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for employees following a vote to advance the proposal by the School Board early Thursday after a long and occasionally raucous meeting.
After hearing about five hours of public comment — most of it opposing the mandate — and some testimony, the board voted 5-1 to allow Superintendent Jesus Jara to draft and implement such a policy and negotiate its terms with unions representing employee groups. Trustee Danielle Ford voted against it and Trustee Katie Williams wasn’t in attendance for the vote.
In a message to parents later Thursday, the district stated the plan Jara puts forward “will include a process for requesting accommodations from the vaccination requirement for either medical conditions or for sincerely held religious beliefs.”
It emphasized that it will apply only to employees “and there is no current mandate for students.”
“Superintendent Jara will develop the plan as rapidly and carefully as possible through consultation with district staff, union representatives and partners and we will update you accordingly,” the district said.
A school district spokesman said Thursday afternoon there weren’t any updates about the timing of negotiations with the unions or how long that process might take.
Jara said at the meeting that memorandums of agreement with the unions will return to the board for approval.
The district — which has about 42,000 employees — is operating with full-time in-person classes this school year, as well as distance education options at 12 schools and a districtwide online school.
As of this week, 67 percent of employees have uploaded a completed COVID-19 vaccination card into an electronic platform.
The special meeting of the School Board, which began just after 5 p.m. Wednesday and stretched into the early morning hours, drew an overflow crowd to the Clark County Government Center in Las Vegas. Hundreds of people filled the main meeting room and hundreds more spilled into an overflow room, with a long line outside waiting to go through security.
Union concerned about logistics
More than 80 people signed up in advance to speak at the meeting and more did so when they arrived. The board also received 203 pages of written public comments.
Most of the speakers opposed the vaccination mandate, including special education teacher Dana English.
“My health has never been the business of CCSD and certainly is not indicative of my ability to teach,” she said, adding that she believes many employees will quit rather than be forced into vaccination.
John Vellardita, executive director of the Clark County Education Association teachers union, said he has heard similar complaints from the union’s members.
He said the school district’s presentation to the School Board was “very general and in some cases, vague.”.
The district said it will entertain exemptions, but wasn’t specific about what qualifies as a medical or religious exemption, Vellardita said.
Also, there was no timeline for implementation.
CCEA won’t stand in the way of a mandate, Vellardita said, but it needs more information from the district about the details.
He added that the union has grave concerns about the ability of Jara’s administration “to roll out this kind of program on the scale that’s required,” citing problems that have arisen with other district mitigation measures.
CCEA initially found out about the proposal for the employee vaccination mandate via news stories, Vellardita said, and not from the district.
The union hasn’t had any negotiations with the district in almost two months, he said, and doesn’t have any dates currently set up.
The union understands the meaning and intent of the mandate to address public safety in the community, including in school buildings and buses with employees and students, Vellardita said.
“However, this is not some inconsequential work environment or employer,” he said, noting the school district is the largest public sector employer in Nevada.
Also, the district already has a significant shortage of classroom teachers and other employees, Vellardita said.
With the mandate, “There’s a possibility that a significant number (of workers) might be forced to end their employment if there’s no alternatives for them,” he said. “That triggers an adverse impact on the rest of the educators.”
Jeff Horn, deputy executive director of the Clark County Association of School Administrators and Professional-Technical Employees, said that as of Thursday afternoon, no-one from the district had reached out to schedule meetings.
Horn said, though, he anticipates that could happen by the end of this week or early next week. He said it sounded like the district wants to start the process soon.
‘Positions are being threatened’
As for the union’s stance on the vaccination mandate, Horn said it would wait until a draft plan is provided.
“We just want to make sure we’re at the table and that the voice of our members is heard,” he said.
The Education Support Employees Association and Teamsters Local 14, said in a Thursday statement that their members have been characterized by district officials as “essential employees” and were on the front lines of keeping the schools running during the early stages of the pandemic.
“However, with this new proposed vaccination policy, essential employee positions are being threatened without having bargained over this issue,” the statement says.
“We have formally demanded to bargain with CCSD over the implementation of this proposed vaccination proposal,” according to the statement. “Such a demand includes that all pay and benefits remain in place as part of an approved policy, whether testing or vaccination.”
The unions said they were pleased that bargaining will take place as the policy is developed and rolled out, adding that transparency from the district is key to moving forward.
The Police Officers Association of CCSD did not respond to a request for comment.
Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.