New hires into the Blaine County School District will have to be vaccinated, the school board decided during its regular meeting Tuesday night.

The 4-1 vote, which comes four weeks into the academic year, directs human resources to require proof of vaccination for all new employees, barring a medical justification or religious conviction exempting them from inoculation.

The decision continues the school district’s record of aggressive COVID-19 mitigation measures, which has been among the most proactive in the state. But it stops short of requiring all staff to get vaccinated.

“That’s a bridge we haven’t crossed yet,” Chairman Keith Roark said. “I don’t know why we would hire anybody who isn’t vaccinated, at this point, just because it will make it that all the more difficult when we do have to take that step.”

So far, around 70% of BCSD staff—373 people—have responded to an anonymous, confidential survey asking vaccination status, according to HR Director Brooke Marshall. Roughly 95% of respondents are vaccinated, Marshall said.

Those employees are already under contract for the 2021-22 school year. To Roark, that makes their vaccination status a separate question—one for a separate debate. As for what to tell new hires and substitutes, though, he was characteristically blunt.

“I think that question answers itself: Go find another job,” he said.

“To me, everything we’ve done so far we’ve done to achieve maximum safety, and we’ve done very well thus far,” he said. “We haven’t had to shut down a classroom, we haven’t had to shut down a school. And now is not the time to ease up on that.”

On Tuesday, Superintendent Jim Foudy lauded the district’s protocols—which include a mask mandate—for keeping students in the classroom. The district had a 95% average daily attendance rate to start the year, he said, considerably higher than many other COVID-stricken districts across the state.

Eighty-nine BCSD students and three staff members were in quarantine as of Sept. 10, the most recent data available. Twenty-four students and two staff members were out with COVID-19.

Trustees Gretchen Gorham, Dan Turner and Lara Stone voted for the vaccine directive. Trustee Amber Larna voted against it. Larna, who opposed the school’s mask mandate, philosophically disagreed with vaccine requirements.

“It’s their body, and it’s their choice,” she said.

She also brought up a question of fairness: New hires would essentially be subject to standards different from current employees who may or may not be vaccinated she said.

The school district may yet weigh rules for unvaccinated staffers, Roark said. For now, though, the board was satisfied to build up its COVID-19 safety one piece at a time.

“It’s like stacking Swiss cheese,” Stone said. “You hope that, if you stack enough layers, you won’t have any holes.”

Email the writer: mdee@mtexpress.com

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