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'We understand this is a sensitive issue': online charter school pushing ahead with COVID vaccine mandate for employees

1 year 8 months 2 weeks ago Tuesday, March 22 2022 Mar 22, 2022 March 22, 2022 10:40 PM March 22, 2022 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE - A virtual charter school is weeks away from placing unvaccinated employees on paid administrative leave, before potentially letting them go, as part of a COVID-19 vaccination mandate.

University View Academy, an online K-12 school, informed employees in late February that its board of directors had approved a vaccination requirement, which provides for a medical or religious exemption.

Jill Gaspard, an eighth-grade math teacher who is unvaccinated, disagrees with the mandate.

"They did give the justification that we have some medically fragile students, which we do, which is why they're in a virtual school," Gaspard said. "It still doesn't make sense because we see our students so infrequently."

In this statement to WBRZ, Shana King, University View's interim superintendent, and board president Linda Holliday said the vaccination policy will help keep staff and students, especially those who are medically fragile, safe:

After careful consideration, UVA adopted a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy for employees, which provides for medical and religious exemptions as required under federal law.  The policy is available on the school’s website here: https://www.universityview.academy/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/UVA-Mandatory-COVID-19-Vaccine-Policy.pdf  As a state-wide virtual school with nearly 300 employees, UVA’s teachers and staff make contact with students in-person and travel continuously all over the state for testing, field trips, and many other student events. 

 We understand this is a sensitive issue with many differing opinions; however, we have received much support from our employees and school community to UVA’s vaccination policy.  We cannot release confidential employee information, and thus we cannot comment on or provide specific information regarding employee compliance with the policy.  UVA’s goal throughout the pandemic continues to be keeping our school community safe while providing a flexible and innovative learning environment to students in line with UVA’s mission.  The health and safety of our students and staff is always of utmost concern to us, and UVA’s vaccination policy advances these goals.  

Last week, the school, which has about 300 staff, administrators, and teachers, further outlined when the mandate would take effect.

All employees who have failed to provide proof of at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by April 8, 2022, will be placed on administrative leave, effective April 11, 2022. Any staff members who fail to get into compliance by April 29, 2022, will be subject to additional discipline, including discharge.

Gaspard says she doesn't understand why the school system waited until now to introduce and enforce a vaccine mandate.

"Had this been initiated at the beginning of the school year when we teachers first signed our employment contracts, that would have been a much more reasonable time to introduce it," Gaspard said. "Especially since that was the height of COVID. It just would have made more sense."

As for the two exemptions, Gaspard says neither category applies.

"I'm a perfectly healthy individual, so I'm not eligible for a medical exemption," Gaspard explained. "My faith does not stop me from being vaccinated, and I'm not willing to be dishonest about my faith."

Gaspard, who has no plans to get vaccinated, was placed on administrative leave last week after circulating a petition to parents pushing back on the vaccine mandate.

"I do not believe the risks of the vaccine, in my case, outweigh the benefits," Gaspard said.

Medical experts, however, have found no evidence that the vaccines are not safe.

WBRZ asked University View how many employees were currently not in compliance with the requirement.

"We cannot release confidential employee information, and thus we cannot comment on or provide specific information regarding employee compliance with the policy," King wrote in a statement.

Channel 2 additionally asked if the school could function with all the vacancies that could be created when unvaccinated employees are dismissed.

"It's impossible to know but in the past, we have had no trouble attracting highly qualified applicants due to the unique nature of the school," King wrote. 

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