Barrington schools backing off booster mandate, allowing alternative to the shot

Teachers union approves agreement that carves out exception for those who do not get booster

Posted 2/15/22

Members of the Barrington teachers union voted to approve an agreement that carves out an exception to the school committee’s booster mandate. 

The agreement, which was voted through …

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Barrington schools backing off booster mandate, allowing alternative to the shot

Teachers union approves agreement that carves out exception for those who do not get booster

Posted

Members of the Barrington teachers union voted to approve an agreement that carves out an exception to the school committee’s booster mandate. 

The agreement, which was voted through late last week, allows teachers who opt to not receive a Covid-19 booster shot to keep their jobs so long as they follow a series of measures, including twice-a-week testing and use of an N-95 mask at all times while inside any school building. 

The agreement is a stark contrast to Barrington School Committee’s vaccine mandate, which did not offer any alternatives. Three teachers who had filed religious exemption requests to the vaccine mandate offered a compromise with school officials, stating they would continue to wear masks and test weekly instead of receiving the vaccine.

School committee members rejected that offer and later voted to uphold the school superintendents’ denial of the teachers’ religious exemption requests. As of Jan. 1, the teachers were officially fired from the district. 

They have since filed a lawsuit against the school committee and are still waiting to have a post-termination appeal hearing with the committee.

One difference between the vaccine mandate and booster mandate appears to be negotiations between the school committee and the Barrington teachers union — NEAB (National Education Association Barrington). 

Prior to the vaccine mandate, there were no negotiations. But that changed for the booster mandate, as NEAB leadership met with school committee members and district administrators to iron out the agreement.

Last Thursday afternoon, union leadership held an in-person membership meeting at the high school to discuss the agreement. They had hoped to vote on the agreement, but officials were unable to reach a quorum. Instead, teachers voted electronically on the proposed agreement on Friday.

The outcome — 204 teachers (out of 288) voted; 107 in favor of approving the agreement, 91 against it, and six abstentions. 

The approved agreement means teachers who choose to not receive the booster shot will not be fired if they adhere to the following rules:

1. They must wear an N-95 mask at all times while they are inside any school building, and teachers must purchase and provide their own masks.

2. They must submit to twice-a-week testing on a set schedule — they can test either Sundays and Tuesdays, or Mondays and Wednesdays. One of the tests each week may be done at the school, while the other is to be done at a state-run site. However, if there are more than four school employees without booster shots working at a single school, then they all must take their tests at a state-run site. “If such a time occurs when tests are no longer available at no cost to the BPS, all tests will occur at an official site at the expense of the member…”

3. They must secure a “protected location” when they need to unmask to eat.

4. They must remain at least six feet from others when drinking for short periods of time.

5. They must complete a daily attestation form.

Other rules

The deadline for receiving a booster shot is March 8 or 30 days from the employee’s eligibility, whichever is earlier. All employees must also show proof of their booster shot or submit to the director of administration and finance a notice of their intent to not receive the booster. 

There were some other details included in the agreement. It states that anyone who becomes ill from the booster will be provided one day of leave by the district, so they do not need to use their own sick time. 

It also states that anyone who is subject to quarantine must teach remotely, and that the Barrington School Committee and NEAB will issue a joint statement describing the agreement as a “cooperative effort by both leadership of BPS and NEAB to create support for all members to receive a booster.”

Of the 288 NEAB union members, 232 have already filed proof of their booster shots. It is possible that additional members have already received their booster shots, but have not yet filed their paperwork. 

When asked about the agreement, teachers union leadership would not comment and the chairwoman of the school committee referred to the yet-to-be-released joint statement.

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