RICHMOND, Va. -- Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney had strong words for the Richmond School Board after it gutted the punishment portion of the district’s vaccine mandate for employees. Stoney said, “this dysfunction robs the school board of its credibility.”
“The mandate is there for a reason, it’s there to protect the most vulnerable. It’s my hope, they realize this is a serious misstep,” he continued later on in a Tuesday afternoon press conference.
On Monday night, the RPS board voted 6-3 to prevent RPS administrators from docking pay or terminating employees who did not comply with the vaccine requirement or failed to get a religious or medical exemption. Those employees who refuse to report this status moving forward will face weekly COVID-19 testing paid for by RPS, per the school board motion.
School board members in favor of the motion said RPS is facing a staffing “crisis,” after 29 employees recently resigned over the vaccine policy. Overall, RPS has 94 vacancies, according to a presentation by Superintendent Jason Kamras.
“Look, it makes zero sense whatsoever to be terminating in the middle of a staffing crisis,” said board member Jonathan Young, who sponsored the motion and was the sole school board member to vote against the original mandate. “What that means for teachers still in the district who remain in the district is extra work and oversized classrooms.”
Young said he believes in and received the vaccine, but noted that mitigation measures remain in effect.
“The reality is we’re still in the pandemic. We still have a lot of COVID mitigation tools and strategies in place,” Young said. “At least one of my colleagues conveyed an interesting in reaching back out to those teachers and staff who resigned and inquiring if they have any interest in returning to the district.”
CBS 6 interviewed Young prior to Stoney’s press conference.
Stoney argued the vaccine is the best way to truly protect students and staff at RPS.
“You cannot enact a public health mandate and then tear out the teeth of said mandate. Essentially, the school board is now asking for 29 individuals out of roughly 3,000, pretty please get the vaccine,” Stoney said. “We should not sacrifice public health, the health of others around us, for quick fixes. At the end of the day, someone could potentially die because they are infected with COVID-19.”
More than 92% of the 4,458 employees at RPS either reported their vaccination status or got a medical/religious exemption, according to Monday’s presentation. It noted that RPS has “seen an increase in our vaccination rate as well as a number of resignations” since October 15, the deadline to comply with the vaccine mandate or face punishment.