City Schools of Decatur aims to require vaccines for students, staff

Ashanti Booker, a registered nurse with the DeKalb County Board of Health, gives a Covid-19 vaccination to Raya High, 13, at a mobile clinic at Decatur High School on  July 19, 2021. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Ashanti Booker, a registered nurse with the DeKalb County Board of Health, gives a Covid-19 vaccination to Raya High, 13, at a mobile clinic at Decatur High School on July 19, 2021. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

City Schools of Decatur could become the first district in Georgia to require students and staff to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Superintendent Maggie Fehrman told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week that the system is working on drafting a policy that would require its employees, which total just under 1,000, to get the vaccine.

Fehrman said the district will solicit feedback on proposed policies with Decatur’s teacher advisory and the classified staff advisory councils. Its human resources department will also work with the district’s legal team to come up with a policy that will accommodate people who are unable to get vaccinated.

“It’s a lot of background work before we can put the policy before the [school] board,” she said.

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The district earlier this month began exploring mandating the COVID-19 vaccine. When the FDA earlier this week gave full approval of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine, Fehrman said the school board “wanted to make sure our students are in the safest environment possible.”

School board members on Tuesday approved moving ahead with Fehrman and her staff crafting a policy to bring back for consideration.

As of Aug. 20, City Schools of Decatur had 16 students and five staff members test positive for COVID-19, according to its report.

Drafting a policy for students may take longer, the superintendent said. The district will have to write a policy that takes into account what state law mandates for childhood vaccines and what other school systems are exploring.

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Georgia currently has the nation’s fifth-highest number of children hospitalized with COVID-19, according to federal health data. Two hundred-fifty children were admitted to Georgia hospitals in the week ending Aug. 25.

Less than 24% of Georgians between the ages of 12 and 17 are fully vaccinated. Children under age 12 are not eligible for vaccines.

In a recent data report, the Georgia Department of Health reports that more than one in every 100 children in the state between the ages of 5 to 17 has tested positive for COVID-19 in the last two weeks.

The district has about 5,800 students enrolled, including 1,700 at Decatur High and 1,300 at Renfroe Middle schools. Fehrman said she has received overwhelmingly positive feedback about the district’s plan to vaccinate students.

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The superintendent told the AJC that “as far as I know,” City of Decatur Schools would be the first in the state to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for teachers and students.

Fehrman said the district aims to introduce the staff vaccination policy to the school board at its Sept. 14 meeting. If it’s approved, the district will provide educational opportunities for staff members who may be hesitant to get the jab.

“Part of the process is not rushing into it, but letting people know up from here’s where we are going,” she said.

Staff reporter Tamar Hallerman contributed to this report.