CMS superintendent: No current plans to require staff get vaccinated

CHARLOTTE — A vaccine mandate for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools staff is not something currently on the table, but the state confirmed that if CMS or any other district wants to do it, it can.

On Tuesday night, CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston reiterated his hope for a normal school year this year.

[COUNTY BY COUNTY: Local school districts’ mask-wearing policies]

“Our full attention is on opening the schools for the 2021-2022 school year,” Winston said. “As we have stated, we plan to open and operate schools as close to normal as possible.”

The district is mandating masks but not vaccines. School Board Member Sean Strain is pushing for the district to consider mandating the shots for staff.

“While I appreciate the investment in PPE, positive COVID antibodies are the best thing our staff can have, both in protecting our staff and in protecting our students,” he said during Tuesday’s meeting.

Winston said that a COVID-19 vaccine mandate is not currently under consideration and it hasn’t been seriously discussed. He said no other district has issued a vaccine mandate yet in North Carolina, and for now, districts are just strongly encouraging shots.

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“That’s not to say that at some point that won’t garner additional conversation. But at this particular point, that’s not the particular approach we are taking,” Winston said.

CMS does not currently require teachers to get any shots, but it does require them to get a TB test prior to employment, which is a state requirement.

If the district does want to implement a mask mandate, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services advised that it should go for it.

“We are unaware of anything that prohibits a school district from implementing its own requirement that teachers and staff must get vaccinated against COVID-19, provided that they follow any applicable laws for reasonable accommodations,” NCDHHS spokeswoman Catie Armstrong said.

It’s unclear how a COVID-19 vaccine mandate would be received by employees. Reached by email, officials with the North Carolina Association of Educators did not take a position on whether vaccines should be mandatory.

NCAE officials said they are strongly encouraging them.

Currently, CMS does not know how many staff members are vaccinated, but it plans to eventually verify its staff’s vaccination status.

[Your guide to which companies and local businesses require masks]

The CMS Board of Education heard an extensive presentation on Tuesday from district staff members on how they are preparing for the upcoming school year. The school district still has dozens of employee vacancies with classes starting in two weeks.

CMS still wants to hire:

  • 123 teachers
  • 77 bus drivers
  • 23 nurses

CMS is considering hiring bonuses using COVID-19 relief funds to fill the positions. The district is ensuring every school is stocked with PPE, from masks to hand sanitizer.

School leaders will also provide a COVID-19 testing program, but details haven’t been fleshed out yet.

Masks will be required in CMS schools this year.

Masking remains one of the most contentious topics, and that was the case again during Tuesday night’s public comment. Board members once again heard from parents and teachers on the mandate.

“Parental rights have never included bioterrorism,” said parent Staci Staggs. “Sending a knowingly infected and contagious people to mingle and infect others is bioterrorism.”

“Please strictly enforce the masking guidance and opt out form,” said teacher Steve Oreskovic. “Denying we have a responsibility to others around us is shameful and deceitful.”

[Mayor Vi Lyles backtracks after claiming she can’t mandate masks in Charlotte]

“Mandatory masking of our children is vehemently wrong and unconstitutional and we will not tolerate it,” said another parent, Keith Peiffer.

“I urge all children and parents not to comply with the tyrannical muzzling order,” said parent Jacob Barnett. “We need unified noncompliance. Do not listen to these people.”

(WATCH BELOW: CMS board votes to require masking at school as NC COVID cases surge)