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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Federal COVID Vaccine Mandate Could Apply To North And South Carolina Schools

North and South Carolina are among 28 states whose OSHA-approved workplace safety plans could subject school employees to a COVID vaccine mandate.
North and South Carolina are among 28 states whose OSHA-approved workplace safety plans could subject school employees to a COVID vaccine mandate.

President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate could apply to North and South Carolina public schools.

The plan, announced last week, requires employees to either get vaccinated or tested weekly for COVID-19. Biden says it applies to federal workers and businesses with more than 100 employees.

School districts get a lot of federal money, and most employ more than 100 people. But the status of the federal vaccine mandate rests not with the Department of Education but with OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

North and South Carolina are among 28 states that have OSHA-approved workplace safety plans, which means the federal rule could apply to public schools. Todd Silberman, a spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, says the state is waiting to see OSHA’s emergency vaccination rule before taking action.

CMS Pushes Employee Vaccines

Meanwhile, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is requiring employees to report their vaccination status next week. HR chief Christine Pejot says unvaccinated staff will have to take part in weekly COVID-19 screening tests, which will be phased in over the next few weeks.

Pejot told the school board Tuesday the contracts for tracking vaccination status and running the testing are paid for with federal COVID-19 relief money. She said the biggest challenge could be lab capacity, as employers around the country launch similar screening programs.

The CMS plan calls for employees to do their own nasal swabs, which will be put into a pool with other unvaccinated staff in a work group. If it comes back negative, that work place will be considered clear for the week. If not, contract employees will come back to do on-the-spot individual testing to identify who has the virus.

Administrators will have lists showing whether the people who report to them are vaccinated or not, Pejot said.

Employees Push Back

At the start of Tuesday meeting, CMS teacher Suter Conrad said the plan violates employees' right to choose their own medical treatment and overlooks the fact that vaccinated people can also spread COVID-19.

"How is only testing unvaccinated staff equitable? This discriminates against the unvaccinated," she said.

Pejot acknowledged there are concerns.

"I mean, this is a big change. Never before have our employees been expected to participate in something along these lines," she said.

Pejot said administrators will try to explain the program to resistant staff, but ultimately employees who refuse to report their status or participate in testing could be fired.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.