APS school board okays vaccine mandate policy, waits for Supreme Court decision

Published 5:55 pm Tuesday, January 11, 2022

The Austin Public Schools Board met on Monday night and passed a policy that pulls the school district in line with the federal vaccine mandate, though not without some consternation from some on the board.

The policy approval was in response to a federal mandate that was handed down in November of last year dictating that any public or private business — including schools — with more than 100 employees are required to get its employees vaccinated against COVID-19. If the employee opts out then they must wear a mask and be tested weekly.

Since then there has been plenty of back and forth on the matter and currently the United State Supreme Court is mulling over the policy, which they first heard on Friday. A decision could possibly be coming this week yet.

Board Chair Kathy Green, voting against the policy, said the mandate itself represents an unfair separation between those who have gotten the vaccine and those who haven’t.

“It’s seriously flawed in regard to a comprehensive health measure,” Green said.

Green said it doesn’t take into account that COVID-19 can still be spread by those who are vaccinated nor does it factor in natural immunity.

“It’s highly discriminatory,” she said.

A little later in the meeting, Board Member Evan Sorenson brought up concerns from the public over a seemingly  inconsistent mask policy in the district. Currently, there is a mask requirement during the school day, but Sorenson told the board some in the public have noted that the policy is not being carried over to extracurricular activities such as basketball games.

“Masking kids all day long to prevent the spread of infection — I was a proponent from the very beginning,” Sorenson said while speaking directly to the public’s concern about masks not being required at sporting or other after school events. “To me — and to several members of the public — it doesn’t make sense.”

However, Board Member Peggy Young countered saying that it was still best to give families the choice and that people aren’t required to attend extracurricular activities.

“I don’t want to see our students go back to distance learning,” Young said, but added. “I’m not comfortable making changes again.”

Young said she was in favor of waiting a bit longer to see if the situation changes, but Sorenson said the time to consider change is now.

“With a spike and as rapid as this variant can spread, I don’t think we have time to wait,” he said.

No current action on the subject was taken during the meeting

Like most schools, APS experienced a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases among both students and staff following the holiday break.

In Superintendent Dr. Joey Page’s weekly report  to families last Friday, there were 154 cases of COVID-19 for the week of Jan. 1-7. That was much higher than the previous week in which just 16 cases were reported in the district.

Page noted that these represented 2.6% of the school population and on Monday night said there is no plan at this time to shift instructional models.

Solar comes to APS?

The board also consented Monday night to allow Facilities and Services Director Brian Beasley to move forward in applying for a grant that would largely pay labor and materials in order to bring solar power alternatives to the district.

Should APS be picked for the grant, which in total has $8 million allocated for similar projects around the state, then solar panels would be placed on each school. The grant would pay for 95% of the project with each grant coming to $750,000.

“If we’re only investing 5% of that, we’re sitting pretty good,” Beasley said.

It’s estimated that the arrays could save the district $43,600 in the first year along with a net cash flow benefit of just over $1 million over 30 years.

In other news:

• Green will serve another year as board chair with Young being elected again as vice chair. Angie Goetz was elected as clerk and Cece Kroc as Treasurer.

• Page told the board that an extensive update on the district’s strategic plan will be given to them in February. Currently, a planning session with site and district leadership teams, is scheduled to be held on Feb. 2.