Bobbie Lester vaccine JCPS Broadbent Arena.jpg

Bobbie Lester, a nurse at Indian Trail Elementary, gets her COVID-19 vaccine at Broadbent Arena in Louisville, Ky., on Jan. 8, 2021.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Jefferson County Public Schools is working with union representatives on plans for district staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo regular testing, Superintendent Marty Pollio said Friday.

The boards of two labor groups representing JCPS employees — the Jefferson County Teachers Association and the Jefferson County Association of Educational Support Personnel — have voted to support such a measure, leaders told WDRB News on Friday.

“I think it is likely you will see a proposal in the near future that will either be vaccinated or once-a-week testing,” Pollio said Friday. “I don’t know that for sure at this point. That is the discussion right now. I would not be surprised if that’s on our next board agenda.”

The boards of both JCTA and JCAESP voted in support of requiring vaccinations or regular testing at meetings Thursday.

“Our hope would be that as many people as possible would be vaccinated, but for those who don’t, we’d be supportive of ongoing COVID testing,” JCTA President Brent McKim said, adding his hope that testing would remain available for teachers who have been vaccinated.

Both JCTA and JCAESP believe the district should provide COVID-19 testing as part of the agreement and that employees should be held harmless if testing isn’t covered by JCPS administration.

JCPS provides drive-thru COVID-19 testing at 16 sites through a partnership with Wild Health for students, staff and families.

Free testing is also available at all JCPS schools through Sphere for students and employees who have completed consent forms. JCPS reported Friday that about 9,000 students and 3,600 staff members have registered for regular COVID-19 testing.

JCTA regional director Emilie McKiernan Blanton drafted the motion after the school board suggested an upcoming vote on the same issue.

"Honestly, the most criticism I've gotten is from people that think that the motion was too lenient, and that it should be 'vaccinate or terminate,'" she said. "But we do have to appreciate that there are people that cannot be vaccinated."

The motion approved by JCTA’s board called for testing to occur at least biweekly and no more than weekly, McKim said. JCAESP’s board believes workers should be tested every week if they are not vaccinated, said Sue Foster, the union’s president.

“The test must be provided by the district at no cost to the employees, and the employees can’t be held accountable if the district doesn’t provide the test,” Foster said of her board’s stance on the matter.

John Stovall, president of Teamsters Local 783, said his union has been in talks about a policy on COVID-19 vaccinations or regular testing but has not adopted a formal position.

“We encourage our members to take the shots and listen to medical facts and not the silliness being put out on social media,” Stovall said in a message to WDRB News.

About 80% of JCPS employees signed up for COVID-19 vaccinations at Louisville Metro’s drive-thru vaccination site at Broadbent Arena earlier this year, Pollio said. The district is not contemplating mandatory vaccinations at this time because Pollio worries such a policy may push some unvaccinated JCPS employees to quit.

“Obviously, we’re hiring,” he said. “We have people that are leaving during this time, which is also a concern about mandatory vaccination. We can’t afford to lose staff at all.”

Both McKim and Foster believe JCPS would lose staffers if their employment is contingent on getting COVID-19 vaccinations.

“They can’t afford to do that because our members have been about as resilient as they can be, and actually, resilience is going out the back door right now,” Foster said. “It’s exiting out the back door.”

McKim said JCPS “cannot afford to be down even one more teacher” because of the district’s current staffing shortage, saying classroom staff and substitutes are “stretched super thin” right now.

“We’re so short right now on substitute teachers and so forth that teachers are covering each other’s classes because there are no subs to go around,” he said. “… I talked to one teacher who said she almost has not seen a planning period since school started because every day she’s covering somebody else’s class during her planning period.”

The Jefferson County Board of Education’s next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 14. Chris Kolb, who represents District 2 on the board, said Tuesday that he would present a motion regarding vaccination requirements for staff at the next board meeting if such a policy was not in place by then.

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