The Pfizer vaccine is administered during a free COVID19 vaccination event held at New Horizon Church International in partnership with the Mississippi State Department of Health, Wednesday, August 4, 2021 in Jackson. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were available to those 12 years of age and older. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

The board for Natchez-Adams schools on Tuesday took the next step to require district employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.

The board voted unanimously to approve a four-part proposal that includes all employees getting vaccinated within a 30-day period of being notified and an incentive program to encourage vaccinations. The plan also proposes the board and administration meet with individuals who refuse to be vaccinated to determine next steps.

If Natchez-Adams moves forward with such a policy, it would be the first known school district in the state to do so. A spokeswoman for the Mississippi Department of Education said the department is not aware of any other school districts that have adopted such a policy.

Phillip West, the vice chair of the school board and a former state legislator and mayor of Natchez, introduced the proposal.

“We’re hoping the requirement of all employees to do this coming from the board should hopefully show them the seriousness of our actions as it relates to making sure that the kids are safe and their coworkers are safe,” said West.

West said the superintendent reported about 60% of employees in the district are already fully vaccinated.

Officials approved the proposal unanimously but have differing understandings of what it means. West said there are plans to draft a letter to employees early next week, thus starting the 30-day countdown for them to be vaccinated. But Board President Amos James said all the board did was vote unanimously to “look” at a policy.

Board attorney Bruce Kuehnle said the vote “put things in motion” for developing a comprehensive policy for the board to consider in the future.

West said he and other board members are still considering how the district will handle unvaccinated employees. One option is requiring them to submit to routine screening testing, he said.

“It’s going to be on a case-by-case basis once we see what the numbers (of employees who decline to be vaccinated) are that will dictate what kind of actions we will consider as a consequence,” said West.

Mississippi is currently facing a fourth wave of COVID infections, and the number of cases in children is rapidly rising. As of Thursday, 34% of Adams County residents were fully vaccinated, according to the Mississippi Department of Health. Forty-three percent had received at least one dose.

The county currently has test positivity rate of 23% in the week ending Aug. 14, the most recent for which data is available.

The city of Jackson recently announced it would require employees to be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing. Last month the University of Mississippi Medical Center announced a new vaccination policy that will eventually require employees and students to get fully vaccinated after the vaccines receive full authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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Kate Royals is a Jackson native and returned to Mississippi Today as the lead education reporter after serving in the same capacity from 2016 to 2018. Prior to that, she was a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger covering education and state government. She won awards for her investigative work, including stories about the state’s campaign finance laws and prison system. She was a news producer at MassLive in Springfield, Mass., after graduating from Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications with a master’s degree in communications.