WILMINGTON — Educators, school staff, contractors and volunteers who work in Delaware K-12 public and private schools must get vaccinated for COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing, Gov. John Carney, the Delaware Division of Public Health and the Delaware Department of Education announced Tuesday.
The requirement, which will be formally issued by emergency regulation, takes effect Nov. 1.
“This is all in a way to create a safe environment for learning and to prevent disruptions to learning as our children experienced last year,” said Dr. Susan Bunting, Delaware’s education secretary.
State officials said the exact number of educators who are currently unvaccinated is unknown. DOE began offering vaccinations to the state’s teachers in January through a phased-in approach.
In August, Gov. Carney announced staff of long-term care and other Delaware health care facilities would be required to provide proof of vaccination or undergo regular testing, beginning Sept. 30. State employees were also to be held to that mandate.
ChristianaCare recently went a step further by requiring all employees to be vaccinated by Sept. 21 with no weekly testing option. The health system announced Monday it lost approximately 150 of its employees, less than 48 were full-time employees who provided direct patient care and less than 12 were nurses.
Gov. Carney said he was pleased with the progress of these requirements, pointing out 99% of ChristianaCare’s approximately 14,000 employees fulfilled the vaccine requirement, because it offers peace of mind everyone in those buildings are vaccinated.
The vaccination or weekly testing requirement for schools does include bus drivers, state officials clarified, because they are either district employees or contractors depending on the school district. The state is experiencing a shortage of school bus drivers and Gov. Carney said he hopes the new requirement will not exacerbate the shortage.
“There’s always the concern when you have a requirement like this,” Gov. Carney said. “We had it with respect to state employees, with respect to nursing home employees, and I know the hospitals had a similar concern. That has to be balanced with the benefit of having those employees vaccinated as opposed to putting people at risk of giving folks the virus.”
Delaware State Education Association President Stephanie Ingram said in a statement the DSEA supports the vaccine requirement, calling the weekly testing a reasonable alternative for those who do not wish to receive the vaccine.
“The Delaware State Education Association’s goal is to keep our educators and students in school while protecting their health and keeping them safe during these uncertain times,” Ms. Ingram said.
“To that end, we support the governor’s decision for all school employees to get vaccinated or submit to testing. All scientific evidence shows us that this vaccine is effective and prevents the risk of transmission while lessening the symptoms if the disease is transmitted. So, we urge our members to get vaccinated.”
“We recognize that some educators still have concerns with the vaccine,” she added. “For these members, the requirement of weekly testing is a reasonable alternative that will help provide a safe learning environment for all. While we know not everyone will agree with this decision, we believe that this allows us to safely keep children and educators in school while continuing to protect their health.”
Dr. Bunting said districts will be required to have a progressive discipline policy for those who fail to follow the vaccine requirement and do not test weekly. Gov Carney added no firings will happen immediately if the requirements are not adhered to.
“It doesn’t result in somebody getting fired right away,” Gov. Carney said. “There are various levels of discipline. In some cases, you get docked a day or some period of time, and then moving up, allowing the employee to correct that situation.”